Interview trip to St Louis

It took 4 hours to drive round-way to get the interview in St Louis. However, the story paid off and makes the long trip worthy.

I’m covering a story regarding the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the budget cut. To reduce the cost, the department is trying to transfer mentally challenged clients from the large state-funded facilities to smaller community providers. There are a couple of mini stories under this bigger issue, so when I first pitched this story to Phill, I didn’t realize that a lot of stories are related to each other. I started with the closing of Northwest Habitation Center in St Louis, but Phill insisted that there are something about the Bellefontaine, and the parents are very upset. I interviewed the spokesperson from the department, and he blocked my interview with the department director and the habitation centers. With limited information, I thought the story was just about Northwest until I searched Bellefontaine online.

A newsletter from a year ago about Bellefontaine caught my attention. A parent association was fighting against the cut of the department and their attempt to close Bellefontaine. I thought that was what Phill said, but I still dialed the number on the newsletter to get to know more. A parent who replied my phone really move my story a lot further. She told me the department has been refusing new patients to the center so that they could close the Northwest; while the spokesperson told me they close the center because there are not much needy patients.

I was excited to know this. What’s more important and made me proud, Phill called in the department director himself to help me get through the spokesperson. He said he’d prefer me to interview the parents in St Louis, and he was right.

Basically the story is the parents are fighting against the bill that would close state-funded facilities(northwest, bellefontaine, etc). The department is refusing new patients of the state-funded facilities, so the facilities seem to be empty and the department could consolidate them. The state is also trying to transfer more patients to community providers, which would replace those large facilities, but the parents complain that community providers lack of professional services.

Phill was right that I should do an in-person interview. I got incredible interview with 2 bellefontaine parents, 1 Northwest parents, and 1 guardian. I got the copies of the emails between the parents and the department of mental health, including Keith’s response. With their help, I will also talk to a parent who visited a community provider himself. He will give us the pictures he took, so we could compare the community one and the facilities. A parent leader will come to the Capitol on Monday afternoon for a hearing at 1 pm, regarding disabilities. With Phill’s help, Keith will have a meeting with me and other staff of the department on Monday 4-5 pm.

It’s gonna be a long-term story with tremendous human interests.

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