Gudger addresses health care visitation bill, I-65, mental health

Sen. Garlan Gudger speaks about the health care visitation rights bill. (Office of Sen. Garlan Gudger)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, recently gave an update on legislation he’s been working on this session.

Gudger sponsored Senate Bill 113,  aimed protecting and enhancing visitation requirements for patients, clients or residents of health care facilities. Gudger said he has been working for the past two years to pass this piece of legislation that would allow patients of health care facilities to “have the right to visit with any individual of their choosing” during the facility visiting hours. According to Gudger, this endeavor began when he heard the stories of family members not able to see their loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law in April.

Looking forward, Gudger said, he is taking the initial steps to find a solution to increasing traffic congestion and crashes on Interstate 65.

“We have more traffic than we’ve ever had before. When there’s a wreck (on the interstate) you have to go through downtown (Cullman on U.S. Highway 31), and it clogs up every artery that we have for our infrastructure,” Gudger explained.

According to Gudger, he has been working with Lieutenant Gov. Will Ainsworth to get a resolution sent to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) for a study about what it would take to make I-65 six lanes statewide.

“I’ve already been in contact with ALDOT,” Gudger stated. “It would be a 10-year project. What is the feasibility? How would we do it? And give me a strategy so that we can start on it.”

Gudger talked about the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

“There is a bill called 988, which is the equivalent to 911. If someone has any mental health problems, whether it’s your family at home or someone walking down the street, if this bill passes, you will be able to dial 988 statewide and you would have what they call a crisis mobile unit come to that person if that is what is needed,” he explained.

According to Gudger, the goal is give people struggling with mental health issues the proper care they need instead of involving law enforcement.

Nationwide, 988 is designated as the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number. Right now, when Alabama residents call 988, those calls are routed to 911 centers. The 988 bill will allow Alabama residents to access the nationwide 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number. It will fund brick and mortar 988 call centers and mobile units, and provide professional training specifically for mental health emergencies.

“This will give better assistance with mental health issues for residents as well as free up our 911 dispatchers for other calls. In 2010, there was a 60% slash in funds for mental health care, and this bill will help with that cut,” wrote Alisha Parker, executive legal assistant in Gudger’s office, in an email to The Tribune.

Gudger said the service will cost users less than $1 per month, and it will help taxpayers in the long run because their money won’t be going toward as many hospital stays, extra personnel hires, etc.  

“I think this is something that is warranted and worth it for mental health to get us back on track,” he said.

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