City officials complain about mental health cuts after Gert Town killings

Published: Oct. 19, 2012 at 9:41 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2012 at 10:38 PM CDT
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A lot of people are pondering whether additional funding for mental health care services might have helped prevent this week's killing of two Gert Town children.

A City Council member says Governor Bobby Jindal lied to the people of New Orleans when he made a commitment to provide local beds for the mentally ill.   State health care workers insist the care is still available.

NOPD officers say a mother suffering from mental illness confessed to killing her three-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, raising questions as to whether she was getting the care she needed.

"The governor lied to us when he closed the beds here.  He said there would be beds in Mandeville," said Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

Now Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville is being shut down and about half of its patients have been moved to Pineville.

Though Chelsea Thornton's family acknowledges to FOX 8 that she had mental health issues and was off her medication, it is not clear what led up to the children's deaths.

What we do know is this -- access to mental health care is not what it used to be in the metro area.

At one time, Charity Hospital had 120 psychiatric beds and they stayed full.  Now there are just 19 at University Hospital.

But Department of Health and Hospitals spokeswoman Megan Speakes tells FOX 8 that the state is "actually increasing" the number of beds in New Orleans.  Speakes says, "If Thornton did in fact need help and had gone to a hospital, she would not have been turned away."

Doctors, though, tell us that mental health beds rapidly fill up, frequently forcing patients to be diverted to other hospitals.

Many say the problem is the governor's failure to sign on with the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature health care reform.

"There's a direct relationship." said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.  "If we do not accept that designation, we are going to lose 100-percent federal funding.  We have 800,000 people that don't have health insurance and it comes out of our pockets in more money or more cuts."

The mayor says, if something isn't done, there will likely be more tragedies to come.

The governor's office says what happened to Chelsea Thornton's children's is a "horrible situation and our thoughts and prayers are with the family."  And spokesman Kyle Plotkin says, "The cuts were imposed by Congress and have nothing to do with the governor's position on the affordable health care law."

State officials say, if you're in distress, you can call Magellan Health Services at 1-800 424 4399.  Speakes with the Health Department also says the state is adding another 16 adult acute beds in New Orleans and the same number on the North Shore.