A 2015 Mental Health America report ranks Louisiana 47th for overall mental health care, meaning the state has a high prevalence of mental illness and scarce access to care.
But leaders in Baton Rouge have had little success with moves in recent months aimed at improving the capital city’s mental health care offerings.
The Metro Council rejected a proposed tax plan in January that would have asked voters to pay higher sales and property taxes for a $16.5 million mental health center, among an array other public safety and infrastructure improvements.
Nonviolent, mentally ill people in Baton Rouge are often left without a place to go for proper treatment. Therefore, many end up shuffling in and out of jail for substance abuse problems, according to the Mayor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office and Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
Those pushing for the mental health center have deemed Baton Rouge’s lack of mental health care a dire emergency.
Despite the rankings, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals maintains that access to mental health care in the state has grown, citing an increase in service providers from 800 to more than double that number.
“We have made substantial investments in mental health care access over the last six years,” DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins said. “That access is based on rethinking how and where we provide care.”
Louisiana is ranked 48th in Mental Health America’s rankings for access to mental health care, while its southern neighbors — Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina — are all in the bottom 10.
Many leaders who have proposed mental health improvements in Baton Rouge have cited San Antonio as a model. San Antonio has a restoration center that treats the mentally ill who would otherwise go to jail.
Despite San Antonio’s success, Texas ranks 36th in overall mental health, according to Mental Health America.
The best states for overall mental health care are in the Northeast and Midwest, according to the study. The top five are Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota and Delaware.
‘Lucky’ Songy running for Iberville clerk
Edward “Lucky” Songy Jr., who has served as Iberville Parish’s chief administrative officer for the past 13 years, is looking to make a career change.
Songy recently announced his candidacy to be become the parish’s next clerk of court in the fall elections.
In his announcement, Songy touts his legal expertise, having served as an assistant district attorney for the 18th Judicial District in the 1990s and as a senior staff attorney for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections before that.
Songy calls for streamlining the 18th Judicial District Court to ease court appearances and promises to provide the public with well-trained staff focused on customer service. He also wants to open a satellite office in St. Gabriel to assist residents living on the parish’s east bank who must endure traffic delays across the Mississippi River bridge or catch a ferry to make it to the courthouse.
Songy also pledges to work with the parish assessor, Parish Council and the municipalities to better identify and catalogue properties on Iberville Parish’s tax rolls.
“This important office touches the lives of Iberville Parish residents in many ways other than court proceedings,” Songy wrote in his campaign statement. Voters will head to the polls for the parishwide elections on Oct. 24.
A Rev. T.J. Jemison Boulevard in future?
Mayor-President Kip Holden wants to rename part of East Boulevard downtown to “Reverend T.J. Jemison Boulevard.”
The Rev. T.J. Jemison, a civil rights icon known as the architect of the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott, died in November at the age of 95.
Jemison helped organize an eight-day boycott of Baton Rouge buses by black riders who were forbidden by city ordinance from sitting in front of white people. The protest set the stage for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who later organized nonviolent protests in Montgomery, Alabama, including a yearlong bus boycott in 1955.
Holden is proposing that East Boulevard, from Government Street to North Boulevard, be renamed. The Metro Council will vote on the change at the Wednesday afternoon Metro Council meeting.
Holden spoke fondly of Jemison in a November story reporting his death.
“There’s nobody that can replace him,” Holden previously said of his longtime mentor. “He was very unique and will go down as one of the most unique people that ever walked the streets of Baton Rouge.”
“If more young people, not just in Baton Rouge but throughout the nation, would just take a moment, go back and read the history of this man,” Holden said, “maybe that would get them to turn their lives away from any violence and turn it directly towards reaching out to the community to make it better.”
Advocate staff writers Andrea Gallo, Terry L. Jones and Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.