WKYT Investigates | One year after passing, Kentucky legislature unable to fund mental health law

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - Senate Bill 91, also known as "Tim's Law," is aiming to break what mental health advocates say is a common cycle -- a revolving door for some with mental illness in and out of hospitals and jail.

Dr. Sheila Schuster with the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, a supporter of the bill, says many mentally ill patients run into problems because they discontinue taking medicine prescribed to help treat their condition.

"They don't like the side effects of the medication they are on, so they stop taking them and fall deeper into their mental illness," Schuster says.

This often results in a family member filing a mental health warrant because they are a danger to themselves or others. Law enforcement will then pick them up to take them to a hospital.

That's when some say the cycle starts over.

Advocates say that is the life the law's namesake, Tim Morton, lived for decades in Lexington.

"His mom, Fay Morton, had to go to court, take out a mental health warrant, have the sheriff come take him away in handcuffs in the back of the sheriff's car," Schuster explained.

Morton recalled the times she had to take that agonizing step for her son.

"I just gritted my teeth, and I went down there, signed that paperwork, knew the sooner I did it the sooner he would get picked up," Morton said, "It was never easy."

Faye Morton remembers when her son was confident and active, but things changed one day in 1975 right after he finished high school.

"He was at his friend's place and said he had been poisoned and his drink must have had LSD in it because he could read the people's minds that were there, and he was hearing voices."

Tim Morton did not believe he had a mental illness. After spending weeks in a hospital, doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia.

"He did not believe he had a mental illness," his mother recalled, "He did not believe the medicine helped him."

Morton's problem is a problem many with mental health suffer from, however they are unable to receive involuntary treatment unless they are deemed a danger.

"What doctor would tell a cancer patient, 'Well you have a tumor. It's at stage 1 right now, but it's not a danger to you so come back when it's stage 4, and we will deal with it.' That's the same kind of reasoning to me," explains mental health advocate Kelly Gunning.

Gunning is not only a mental health advocate, but she is also a mother of a son living with a serious mental illness.

"If my son had been receiving appropriate treatment, he would have never tried to kill my husband and I on Jan. 4, 2016," Gunning says.

"Tim's Law" hopes to change that by allowing those with a serious mental illness, who do not realize they are sick, and have been involuntarily committed twice within the year to be court ordered to follow their treatment plan.

"It's not just me making this decision," Schuster says,"There's a judge up there in a black robe saying, 'Hey Tim. You've got to stay on your medicine.'"

Even though "Tim's Law" was victorious in the legislature, even overcoming a veto by Governor Matt Bevin, it is not being implemented.

Schuster says that is because of the budget woes facing the Commonwealth.

"The state is always in financial crisis. So to get it passed we put language in the bill that said it will be implemented as funding is available."

That funding, which they say at most is $500,000 to cover the needs to create a new court system. The actual treatments are covered by each person's Medicaid benefits.

"It's not a political issue," Schuster argues, "It's not a Democratic or Republican issue. It's not a Senate or House issue. It really goes across all socioeconomic classes and all political parties. I think there is a will there. We just have to find out a way."

Some do not agree with all details of "Tim's Law." Kentucky's Public Advocate Damon Preston says it will have a great impact on their public defenders' caseloads, which he says are already at high levels.

"Tim's Law creates a whole new class of cases," Preston says, "A new docket."

Preston does agree with advocates the law comes from a real need. He suggests more funding should go to community mental health centers to help solve the problem.

Other advocates are hopeful more funding will be allocated to "Tim's Law" in order to fund the court, as they look to close the "revolving door."

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