When shots rang out last year at a high school in Parkland, Florida, leaving 17 people dead, President Donald Trump quickly turned his thoughts to creating more mental institutions.
When back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, jolted the nation earlier this month, Mr. Trump again spoke of “building new facilities” for the mentally ill as a way to reduce mass shootings.
“We don’t have those institutions any more and people can’t get proper care,” Mr. Trump lamented at a New Hampshire campaign rally not long after the latest shootings.
Now, in response to Mr. Trump’s concerns, White House staff members are looking for ways to incorporate the President’s desire for more institutions into a long list of other measures aimed at reducing gun violence.
It’s the latest example of White House policy aides scrambling to come up with concrete policies or proposals to fill out ideas tossed out by the President. And it’s an idea that mental health professionals say reflects outdated thinking on the treatment of mental illness.
Mr. Trump sometimes harks back to his earlier years in New York to explain his thinking on preventing future mass shootings. He recently recalled to reporters how mentally ill people ended up on the streets and in jails in New York after the State closed large psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s and 1970s. “Even as a young guy, I said, ‘How does that work? That’s not a good thing,’” Mr. Trump said.
As the White House looks for ways to fight gun violence, officials have looked at Indiana as one potential model in addressing mental illness. The State opened a new 159-bed psychiatric hospital in March, Indiana’s first in more than 50 years. The hospital is focused on treating patients with the most challenging psychiatric illnesses.
Plans for the hospital were announced when Vice President Mike Pence was the State’s governor. “Our prisons have become the State’s largest mental health provider,” Mr. Pence said in 2015. “Today, that begins to change.”
Paul Gionfriddo, president and chief executive of the advocacy group Mental Health America, said Mr. Trump is pursuing a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. “Anybody with any sense of history understands they were a complete failure. They were money down the drain,” said Mr. Gionfriddo.