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Father criticial of mental health care system in wake of son's suicide

74-year-old Dick Morgan watched from his porch as the crime took place. His son Rollie shot and killed his girlfriend, 19-year-old Tera Stevens, before turning the gun on himself and taking his own life. Morgan says the couple fought for two days before the killings. He says his son suffered from depression, and was rarely sober during the last two years after his mother left the family.

He said that he was not smart enough to handle the home schooling stuff, so she had to work with him considerably, and she didn't like doing that, Morgan says. He thinks that's the reason she finally left.

About a month ago Rollie Morgan was arrested for disordely conduct following a traffic accident in Laurelville. Police took him to a hospital emergency room after he threatened suicide, but he was released after he recanted his threats. Criminal charges were dropped, but he was ordered to report to a mental health center in Chillicothe.

Dick Morgan says two weeks later his son walked out a counseling session. He then went to a hospital in Logan, where he was treated and given medication. Morgan says despite Rollie's ongoing behavioral problems and pleas for help, he was never deemed an immanent threat to himself or anyone else. Now he's bitter at the mental health care system because he thinks it failed his son.

The mental health stuff, that's where they should have recognized some of this stuff and gotten him in, tested him, and told us what to do, Morgan says. They knew he had been threatening suicide.

Morgan says Rollie would have received better care if he had private insurance instead of Medicaid.

And Ohio Department of Mental Health Director Michael Hogan agrees.

Hogan says patients entering the state health care system undergo tests to determine the severity of their illness. They are then assigned psychiatrists based on their need and ability to pay. Hogan says while the government-funded system is designed to provide care for everyone, private insurance coverage can play a large role in the amount of time it takes to receive services.

If somebody doesn't have a need for urgent care, that is if they aren't in a desperate situation right now, they might have to wait weeks to get an appointment unless they have some kind of insurance coverage, Hogan says.

Hogan declined comment on the Morgan case because of privacy laws. He says he sympathizes with the family. But Morgan insists his son's case should have been considered urgent. Blair Young of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, says the problems experienced by the Morgans are common.

Almost everything we do boils down to advocating for access to services, treatments or medications, Young says. 99 percent of the calls we get in here are My family member or I need help, but we're having difficultly accessing that help,' whether it be because it's not available, there's a waiting list, or some other kind of barrier blocking access to that treatment.

Ohio's mental health care is funded like most states in that the budget is set by the state legislature. Those funds are then divided among the 50 local mental health boards around the state, which also use tax levies to supplement the state dollars. Young says NAMI works with about 10,000 Ohio families to educate them about available services. When asked about NAMI, Dick Morgan says it's too bad he didn't know about it while son struggled.