New law aims to assist first responders in accessing mental healthcare, gives time off after critical incidents

Officials on Wednesday held a ceremonial signing of two bills passed by the Kentucky General Assembly, with one of the bills aimed at assisting first responders in accessing mental health services and providing recovery time following critical incidents.

Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 562, which helps first responders get the mental healthcare they need. The bill also allows peace officers and firefighters to take 48 hours leave after being involved in a critical incident, which covers a wide range of events from the death of a colleague to vehicle accidents.

“This legislation allows first responders to have time to seek mental health care after a traumatizing incident at work. This helps the first responder, their family and the community they serve take the time they need to recover,” Beshear said. “It also protects the first responders’ employment by allowing them to take the time they need for their mental health without fear of losing their job.”

The measure was filed by state Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty, D-Martin, on behalf of Pastor Josh Ratliff, who is a Captain with the Middle Creek Volunteer Fire Department in Floyd County and serves as Chaplain of the Floyd County Rescue Squad.

“This bill will help protect first responders by giving them time to process the events after a critical incident and begin seeking help,” Ratliff said. “I hope this bill will start to help reduce post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide rates.”

Beshear also signed House Bill 127, which expands access to assisted outpatient treatment. This form of mental health treatment is a partnership between the courts, the healthcare system and the people of Kentucky. It allows the courts to order outpatient care for individuals with severe mental illness.

Since 2017, Kentucky, along with 47 other states, has offered court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment, officials said. This method of court-ordered mental healthcare ensures that individuals with severe mental illness receive the treatment they need when they are not capable of seeking it on their own.

Tim’s Law also allows individuals with severe mental illness to receive treatment without being involuntarily hospitalized.

HB 127 expands Tim’s Law in three ways:

  • It allows for expanded access to those who would benefit from outpatient treatment by modifying the criteria
  • It requires a more thorough evaluation of individuals who may receive court-ordered treatment
  • It helps cover additional treatment costs necessary to ensure successful re-entry and participation in the community

(Photo: State Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty, D-Martin)

By Ken Howlett, News Director

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