With improved mental health care, Fort Worth found hope out of evil at Wedgwood church

Twenty years ago, Fort Worth was stunned at how evil marched into a church and slaughtered innocent worshipers.

In the months and years that followed the Wedgwood Baptist Church massacre, we were all reminded that good can be born out of tragedy.

After a gunman thought to have suffered from mental illness killed seven people and then himself, local governments, medical facilities and community groups came together with a sustained focus on improving access to mental health care that continues to show benefits today.

Kenneth Barr, Fort Worth’s mayor at the time, led an effort to collaborate among various local governments, community leaders and health experts. Mental Health Connection of Tarrant County was created to coordinate among agencies and providers and make it easier for those in need to access services. It stands now as a model for other areas.

There have been setbacks in the years since Wedgwood, particularly when state funding has waned during recessions. But these contributions have stood the test of time. Local officials have by and large done an admirable job keeping the focus on steady improvement.

The work continues. Consider what’s happening in the JPS Health system. Last fall, Tarrant County voters overwhelmingly approved $800 million in bonds for upgrades in the public health system, including construction of a new behavioral and mental health hospital. Two new clinics that will allow for one-stop physical and mental health care are in the works.


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Editorials are the positions of the Editorial Board, which serves as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s institutional voice. The members of the board are: Cynthia M. Allen, columnist; Steve Coffman, executive editor; Bud Kennedy, columnist; Juan Antonio Ramos, editorial director of La Estrella, the Star-Telegram’s bilingual publication; and Ryan J. Rusak, opinion editor. Most editorials are written by Rusak and edited by Coffman. Editorials are unsigned because they represent the board’s consensus positions, not the views of individual writers.

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And that’s good, because the need remains acute. The local United Way reports that Tarrant County ranks last among large Texas counties in the ratio of residents to health care providers, including in the mental health realm.

And mental health needs are a major factor in combating homelessness. Nearly one in five homeless people locally experience severe mental illness, the United Way says.

Mass shootings continue to increase the spotlight on mental health needs, to the point that some experts note that the vast majority of people with mental illness are no threat to others. Some see it as an effort to deflect attention from gun control, and while that might be a factor, public officials are right to focus on the problem. But they must be careful not to stigmatize sufferers.

One thing that’s vastly different now than in 1999, unfortunately, is that shootings no longer have the ability to shock us. We’ve just seen too many, along with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and other acts of mass violence around the globe. Even with rising death tolls, we are often numb to the effect.

But with Wedgwood, the horror was fresh, and meaningful change came out of it. Let that be our guide to a better response the next time a killer targets a store, a school or an innocent youth gathering at a neighborhood church.

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