WellStone: New mental health outpatient commitment law effective Oct. 1

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Left to right are Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman; Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview; and Chris Van Dyke, COO of WellStone Inc. (formerly Cullman Area Mental Health Authority) (Cullman Tribune file photos)

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Wednesday, WellStone Inc., formerly the Cullman Area Mental Health Authority, issued a statement about the new mental health law passed earlier this year and sponsored in the Alabama Legislature by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman and Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview allowing for the extension of involuntary outpatient commitments. Senate Bill 246 was enacted as Act 2019-398. 

The WellStone statement reads:

Starting October 1, a change in mental health commitment law will go into effect. Rather than having an outpatient commitment limited to 150 days, probate judges will now have the option of renewing the outpatient order for up to a year in cases that warrant it. 

Outpatient commitment is a tool available to probate judges for individuals who do not need inpatient care, but will not seek outpatient mental healthcare on their own without being required to do so.  Currently, once the 150-day time frame ends, an individual who needs further treatment can refuse care until another crisis brings them back before the judge. 

The change started with a discussion in Cullman County two years ago.  In response to several tragic mental illness related events over the past few years, Representative Randall Shedd reached out to WellStone Chief Operating Officer, Chris Van Dyke to ask what the that legislature could implement to prevent these types of occurrences from happening again.

Van Dyke shared, “The gap in our commitment system was something we could actually improve. It is a simple fix which will make Alabama safer, as well as save money in reduced hospitalizations and police involvement.”

“He continued, “I appreciate the work of Representative Shedd and Senator Gudger to sponsor this bill and get it passed. Senator Gudger has made improving the mental health system a key issue from day one and this improvement to the law is evidence of results. I am excited to see the legislative process work to improve our state.”

The bill was supported by the Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare and the Alabama Probate Judges Association.

Gudger stated, “Mental health has always been a priority for me, beginning during my time on the Cullman City Council. Representative Shedd and I want to make mental health reform a priority at the state level.”

He continued, “Of all the improvements that are happening in the state, mental health continues to be one area where the system is broken. Although the cuts to the system were inherited from the Great Recession, it is up to the current legislators to start fixing it. I’m proud to be a part of something that has the potential to change so many lives.” 

WellStone Inc. is a nonprofit community organization that provides mental health and substance abuse services in 12 locations across north Alabama. For more information, visit www.WellStone.com

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W.C. Mann