Mobile confronted with trauma and counseling needs following New Year’s Eve shooting

As Monique Chastang-Whigham and her husband, Maynard, were leaving downtown Mobile after dropping their 18-year-old daughter and friends off on New Year’s Eve, they saw police officers rushing in the opposite direction and began to worry.

“I texted my daughter,” said Chastang-Whigham, 47, of unincorporated Axis in north Mobile County. “She called me. It was total pandemonium on the phone. I never have heard her this hysterical before. I told her to get down.”

At the time, Jade Chastang and a group of her friends were in close proximity to a deadly shooting that was occurring within the 200 block of Dauphin Street. The incident resulted in 10 people shot, and one person killed during a chaotic scene that has shaken Mobile and spurred renewed attention toward downtown safety ahead of Mardi Gras.

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But the shooting’s aftermath also lacked something critical, said Chastang-Whigham. It lacked the mental health assistance and counseling for people suffering from the traumatic event.

She brought her concerns before the Mobile City Council on Tuesday.

“It took six days (for the city) to put out a number out there to give you guidance,” she said, referring to counseling that was eventually offered through a division within the Mobile Police Department.

prompting response

She said larger cities, where gun violence is common, offer counselors to people who are impacted. She cited Boston, which deploys trauma teams that consist of a network of 19 community partners that provide services to people affected by gun violence.

“I feel like the City of Mobile let us down,” Chastang-Whigham said. “We are a city and we have crime. We are not excluded from crime. What Mobile should’ve had is … if (a shooting) happens, what should we do? I never received any numbers from social media or wherever that says, ‘these are the numbers to call if victimized.’”

Lawrence Battiste, the city’s executive director of public safety, said his conversation with Chastang-Whigham prompted the city to host two events for people who might have been traumatized by the New Year’s Eve shooting. Neither event drew a large crowd, Battiste said, but offering them is something his agency decided to do since “there was a need in our community.”

“Whenever you have a critical incident, you think you have all of the things in place that impact a community,” he said. “We had not dealt with a critical impact of that nature. This is one of those things where law enforcement typically does not take the lead in coordinating the resources but, from a public safety standpoint, where we see gaps we try to create services around them.”

council focus

The meetings aimed at addressing trauma from a shooting also occurred at a time when Mobile city leaders continue to discuss mental health needs in the city.

The discussions sparked last fall during fiscal year budget talks and an annual appropriation to AltaPointe Health, which serves as the governing body for mental care in the region.

They continued again toward the end of the council meeting on Tuesday with Councilman Scott Jones, who has been the chief critic against AltaPointe, reassuring his commitment toward finding a solution to gaps in mental health services.

“I’m going to keep peeling back the layers of this thing until we figure it out,” said Jones, advocating for an approach similar to long-term care once provided by state-owned hospitals like Searcy in Mount Vernon. It has been closed for over a decade.

Mobile City Councilman William Carroll speaks during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Government Plaza in downtown Mobile, Ala. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

Councilman William Carroll said he wants to see the Mobile City Council vote on a resolution encouraging state lawmakers to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Alabama remains one of 11 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid eligibility as allowed under the federal health care law that was approved by Congress in 2010.

“The biggest need is funding and additional funding for mental health,” Carroll said. “We also have health issues across the state that need additional funding. The only way to do that properly right now is to expand Medicaid.”

Medicaid Expansion

An estimated 283,000 to 340,000 people in Alabama would gain access to Medicaid if the state accepted federal funding to expand the program. The federal government pays 90% of the costs of Medicaid expansion, and states pay for the other 10%.

But it’s that extra 10% that has caused Alabama Republicans, who enjoy a supermajority status in the Legislature, to balk over the years for expanding Medicaid. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, in recent years, has said the state needs to create a stable funding source before it can expand Medicaid. She once said it was “irresponsible” to have an expanded program without a funding source, echoing similar calls from groups like the Alabama Policy Institute.

Alabama, though, could stand to gain the most of any of the holdout states. One analysis, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that Alabama would see the largest decrease in its uninsured rate by an expansion of Medicaid. The Foundation’s report shows the drop at 43% if the state to expand Medicaid.

Alabama Democrats and the state’s Hospital Association have long been advocates for expanding the program. The Hospital Association argues that increasing Medicaid eligibility could keep hospitals financially endangered in rural areas of the state afloat.

Carroll said that Medicaid expansion goes beyond mental health needs. He said it’s needed to “cover everybody” with health-related conditions that go beyond mental health.

Continuing trauma

For Chastang-Whigham, the issues about financing mental health in Montgomery and elsewhere are not as much of a concern as is the mental health of her daughter, who just returned to the University of Mobile to continue her freshman year studies.

“We have gotten counseling from a licensed therapist through the (police department) and it has been helpful, but it does not deny the fact that my daughter is totally traumatized,” said Chastang-Whigham. “She’s running in the house and crying and thinking she’s downtown and I’m grabbing a hold of her and saying, ‘It’s me. It’s momma. She it’s me.’”

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