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'It certainly wasn't clear': Licensed psychologist confused about DOJ investigation into how mentally ill are treated in Louisville

“If I had to pick someplace with having problems of services being available, it would not have been Louisville," Dr. Sheila Schuster said.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky's governor called the federal investigation into the commonwealth's mental health services and how people with mental illness are treated surprising and aggressive.

Gov. Andy Beshear also said he wants answers from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about what led to their investigation. 

"We are going to cooperate, but if they want cooperation, we need to understand how they got to where they are and where they think they're going,” Beshear said.

Mental health professionals said they're also surprised by the investigation. 

“If I had to pick someplace with having problems of services being available, it would not have been Louisville," Dr. Sheila Schuster said. 

Schuster, a licensed psychologist, is also executive director of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition. The coalition represents 80 mental health organizations within the state, including psychiatric hospitals and community-based mental health programs.

"In terms of other places in the state, I think we have a lot of community resources here, so I was surprised," Schuster said. "I was also wondering exactly what they were going after because it certainly wasn't clear."

In a press release sent out on May 24, the DOJ says they’re looking into if the state subjects adults with serious mental illness living in Louisville to “unnecessary institutionalization.” 

The DOJ is also investigating if Kentucky puts people with serious mental illness at risk of encountering police by not providing community-based mental health services.

Beshear said the DOJ called his office about an hour before the release came out.

However, the Kentucky Democrat said his office got a letter alluding to an investigation but thought the DOJ was simply on a fact-finding mission into institutionalization levels in the state.

"But then the press release came out, and it was pretty aggressive," Beshear said. "It talked not just about institutionalization, but it also talked about not finding people in the community suffering from mental illness and helping them before they might become engaged in criminal activity or in confrontations with the police."

Beshear said he never would have launched a public investigation without having documentation and or conversations with the parties involved.

"The Federal Government, Department of Justice, had not reached out, to my knowledge, to a single state official before the heads-up call," Beshear said. "They hadn't requested any documentation or data whatsoever."

Schuster says typically, DOJ investigations end when the department finds a problem is caused because of a gap in funding.

"If you talk to Seven County Services, which is our community mental health center, if you talk to community providers like Bridge Haven that runs a day treatment program, or Wellspring that has supported housing for people with serious mental illness, they would say funding is always a problem,” she said.

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