Connecticut lawmakers last week heard from mental-health care experts and state residents about the difficulties of assessing and treating patients in need.
In the third of four hearings scheduled by a legislative task force formed to prevent gun violence and improve school safety in the wake of December’s Newtown school shooting massacre, Patricia Rehmer, commissioner of the state’s Department of Mental Health Services, said risk assessments of mental-health patients are difficult and cannot be done with complete accuracy.
The hearings were prompted by the Dec. 14 shooting deaths of 26 students and administrators at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. The shooter, Adam Lanza, killed his mother before arriving at the school and took his own life there. While the focus of Tuesday’s hearing was on mental health, state prosecutors said they cannot discuss or release information about Lanza’s mental health because of state conduct rules for attorneys.
Jeremy Richman, whose daughter, Avielle, was killed at Sandy Hook, testified that he and his wife, Jennifer, have received thousands of letters asking “why someone could do such a horrific thing.”
“I believe it is up to ourselves to find the answers,” Richman said.
The Richmans have started the Avielle Foundation to honor those killed on Dec. 14 and to prevent future violent acts by enhancing mental health care and “fostering community.”
Richman said there is a need to improve mental-health education, “identify appropriate interventions” and take action “to prevent violent actions.”
Rehmer, who said she was asked to address gaps in the mental health system, alternatives to outpatient commitment and mental health first aid, said the biggest gaps are for those with private insurance.
“I am not an expert on health insurance, but I do know that while individuals with private insurance have limited access to inpatient services, outpatient services and medications, the additional services that are critical to an individual’s recovery are often times not covered by health insurance policies.”
“I receive calls from families on a daily basis who struggle to fill these gaps by themselves,” Rehmer said. “Additionally, the shortage of psychiatrists in both the public and private system makes it difficult to address both urgent and ongoing needs.”
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