ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — In the wake of a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page outlined the need for more mental health resources in the counts and called for federal and state action on gun reform.
Authorities said a gunman barricaded himself Tuesday inside a single fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School and started shooting, killing 19 children and two teachers. Law enforcement eventually broke into the room and killed the gunman.
“Families are hurting," Page said at a Wednesday morning news conference. "Our children should be looking forward to a summer of fun with their friends and family and instead they’re trying to process the unfathomable. A mass shooting in a Texas elementary school. Children a few days from summer break being gunned down.”
Page had called the news conference to talk about mental health in St. Louis County, "but I can't step away without saying that we must have stronger gun laws in his country," he said.
He advocated for a federal-level passage of a red flag law and the closure of background check loopholes. At the state level, he called for a full repeal of the controversial Second Amendment Preservation Act, which Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed into law in 2021. Supporters of the law say it prevents federal overreach regarding Missouri gun owners' rights, while opponents argue it hinders local law enforcement's ability to partner with federal organizations to solve crimes.
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Locally, Page put the focus on what more can be done for mental health, a need he said far exceeds the county's current capacity to help.
"At the local level our control is mostly about providing mental health services, and we have exhausted our existing resources for the services that we have," Page said.
The St. Louis County Department of Public Health is on track to see more patients through mental health services in 2022 than in the last five years, Page said. According to county data, the department was previously seeing about 2,300 patients a year for mental health. This year, they're on pace to exceed 3,000.
"Given the overwhelming community need, there must be more done,” Page said, and it's something the community appears to support. More than 75% of county residents who were surveyed on how to invest American Rescue Plan funding were in favor of expanding mental health services, Page said.
There are two areas where Page said the health department could "dramatically" expand services if funding were available: mental health case management, with trained clinicians who would assess patients' needs and link them to free of charge care; and substance use treatment, with a large increase in prevention treatment and harm reduction programs, specifically for alcohol and opioid use.
The department of public health is working with partners to update its Opioid Action Plan with more goals and an expansion of programs, including increased access to treatments, especially for high-risk populations, and increased access to NARCAN. The new plan should be completed in the coming weeks, he said.
When it comes to paying for these expansions, "We do have funding opportunities in St. Louis County that we’ve never had before,” Page said.
Among funding options, Page said the county will receive $45 million from the state's opioid crisis settlement announced in February, as well as $75 million in unappropriated American Rescue Plan funds that Page's office is working with the county council on how best to use.
The Children's Service Fund also receives around $42 million a year through a quarter-cent sales tax. The fund is working with the St. Louis Mental Health Board on ways to increase the increasing mental health needs of children and families, Page said.
Page also shared a resource for residents 19 years and younger who are struggling, especially in light of recent events.
The Behavioral Health Response Youth Connection Hotline is available 24/7 for crisis support for them and their families. Those who live in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Franklin County can call 314-819-8802, text BHEARD to 31658 or chat with a clinician via the website.
Watch the full news conference below: