DeWine Pledges Mental Health Study as He Passes AG Task Force to Yost
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Governor Mike DeWine (R)
Attorney General Dave Yost (R)

The administration will soon undertake a comprehensive overview of the state's mental health system to devise short- and long-term goals, Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday at a meeting of the mental health task force he formed while serving as attorney general.

Wednesday's meeting of the Attorney General's Criminal Justice and Mental Health Force marked an official transfer of leadership to Attorney General Dave Yost, who said he wants to continue the work of the group co-founded by DeWine and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton.

Yost told attendees he started to think more deeply about mental health and criminal justice early in his career as a county prosecutor, sharing the story of how an assistant prosecutor had come to him to talk about an encounter between the police and his son, who had has autism. The boy did not seem to understand the situation and become agitated, and the police officer responded by asserting control with his "command voice" and "physical presence." The encounter ended with an arrest and "a waste of an overnight jail bed for that young man, who, the last place he needed to be was in jail."

The subsequent "journey of discovery" he undertook "radically changed my ideas about individual responsibility and what mental illness involves and what we ought to expect of society," Yost said.

"I began to realize many of our institutions are not well adapted to deal with the reality of those who are sick. There's a tremendous disconnect between how we view physical health, the resources, the organizations we bring to that, and mental health … and yet mental health is at least as important as physical health," he said.

Yost also praised the record of DeWine and Stratton on the issues.

"They truly have used their political capital and leadership to make a difference," Yost said.

DeWine said an official announcement of the details and process for his mental health study is weeks away, but said he wanted a chance to personally inform the task force members who worked with him on the issue for the past several years. His chief adviser, Ann O'Donnell, a veteran of his staff since he served in Congress, will be coordinating the effort, he said. He said he's seeking a more "holistic" review than he was able to undertake as attorney general.

"This is consistent with a number of things we have done in the administration, a number of things I did as attorney general, and that is to put a working group together to kind of take a take a big look at some of our systems. We've done that with parole, for example, we've done this in a number of different areas. It's just time. People in the mental health community have urged me to do this and have said we need to take a real look at how this system, or what we call a system, is working, and is it in fact working for the individuals who are involved? Is it also working for their families?" DeWine said.

"Looking back, we went through de-institutionalization. This is not in any way to say we're going to go back, but the question is, how do we go forward? A lot of promises were made at that time to families, a lot of promises were made to individuals who have mental health issues. Probably a good time to look a see how we all have done in keeping those promises, whether it has worked as well as it was outlined, whether the money has been there to help the people who need the help. It's just time to take a good hard look, and we intend to do that," he said.

"That's ultimately the goal: are we treating individuals who have mental health challenges in the most appropriate way? Are we using the tools that we have to help them and assist them and to assist their families? A real kind of holistic point of view. I always like to look at things from the point of view of, where do we want to go in the next couple years? Where do we want to go in the next five years? But where really should we be in 20 years?" he said.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on October 2, 2019.  Copyright 2019 Hannah News Service, Inc.