Holes in mental health registry?

A statewide registry of people who have undergone court-ordered hospitalization for mental health issues may be incomplete, according to state officials.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently launched an effort to see why some of Ohio’s most populous counties have reported far fewer cases than their smaller neighbors.

The reporting requirement went into effect as part of Ohio’s concealed carry permit legislation in 2004. Reported to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the reports are used by county sheriff’s offices, who are the issuing authority of Ohio’s concealed carry permits.

Over the past nine years, the state’s two most populous counties-Cuyahoga and Franklin-have each reported approximately one-third the amount of mental health-related hospitalizations as third most populous Hamilton County.

That is one of the reasons DeWine began reaching out to probate judges in January, reminding them of the requirement, said Lisa Hackley, director of communication for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

“You can see there’s sort of an uneven nest of reporting. And some counties aren’t reporting any, so that is a concern,” said Hackley.

That is the case in neighboring Monroe, Noble and Morgan counties-none of whom have reported any mental illness adjudications over the past nine years.

However, as the respective second, third, and fourth smallest counties, that simply might be because there have been none.

That is at least the case in Noble County, where Noble County Common Pleas and Probate Court Judge John Nau has not ordered a mental health hospitalization since before the law went into effect.

“We simply don’t have the sort of docket,” said Nau, who has held the position since 1990.

In Washington County-the state’s 41st most populous county- the process has been running smoothly since its inception, said Washington County Probate Court Deputy Clerk Trish Whiteley.

“What we do is send a notification to BCI within seven days if there is a commitment made on a person,” said Whiteley.

In the past nine years, Washington County has reported 86 institutionalized persons.

In addition to submitting the reports to the state, the Washington County Probate Court also works directly with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office during the concealed carry permitting application process, said Sgt. Kim Deem, who oversees the permitting.

“What we do when we do our permitting, is we check through BCI, CCH (the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Computerized Criminal History program) and we send a sheet up to probate court, who has information on if the person has been adjudicated as mentally ill,” said Deem.

One of the benefits of the required reporting is that those committed for mental illness in other Ohio counties would show up when applying for a permit outside of their own county.

Washington County can issue permits to residents of neighboring Ohio counties, noted Deem.

So far, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has issued 697 permits this year, said Deem.

No one who has applied for a permit since Deem took over the program three years ago has been flagged as mentally ill. However, it has happened in the past, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

“We have some that we have denied because of mental instability,” he said.

The goal of the legislative reporting requirement is to prevent mentally ill applicants from obtaining a concealed carry permit, the importance of which was exemplified by the recent school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and in Chardon, Ohio.

That is another reason DeWine saw fit to renew the effort to ensure proper reporting, said Hackley.

“At the moment, our nine regional (representatives) are in the process of visiting all of the probate courts. We’re in the midst of collecting information,” she said.

In fact, the push for mental health figures is only part of DeWine’s recent efforts to ensure better reporting practices.

DeWine is also urging schools to submit their safety and building plants-something that is required to be renewed every three years, said Hackley.