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Work on crisis center here could start soon

In a field on Brookman Drive Extension, a weathered signproclaims it as the future site for a state mental health crisisintervention center.

While construction could begin shortly on the last of seven suchcenters around the state, the Brookhaven facility is like theothers — in need of funds to open and operate.

“They’re fixing to start construction on that,” said Dist. 39Cindy Hyde-Smith about the Brookhaven center. “We’re looking foroperating money and for staff.”

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett said the state Bureau of Buildingsand Grounds was expected to open bids on the Brookhaven centerThursday. A construction timetable would depend on when the bid isawarded, weather and other factors.

The estimated $2.7 million crisis center will serve as a smallhospital to treat people in need of psychiatric help but who cannotreceive it because of limited space at other state facilities.Other crisis centers have been built in Batesville, Cleveland,Corinth, Grenada and Laurel, but because of a lack of operatingfunds, the Corinth facility is the only one that has opened.

“I’m ready to get Brookhaven’s up and running and staffed,” saidHyde-Smith, adding that she did not consider Brookhaven’s behindbecause most of the others have not opened. “I think we can getours built by the time the others are opened.”

Where the money to open the centers will come from, however,remains a big question around the capitol. Mental health advocatesheld a rally Tuesday urging lawmakers to find money for thefacilities.

Senate Bill 3102 would increase the taxes on cigarettes, beerand wine, and casinos to get money to open the centers. A similarbill has also been introduced in the House.

“The bill would operate the centers,” Barnett said. “We have themoney in hand to build the center.”

Citing the tax increase aspect, Barnett estimated the bill’schances at 50-50. Hyde-Smith believes the bill has “little chance”of passage.

“This administration has pretty much committed to no taxincreases,” the senator said.

Hyde-Smith said the bill is the centers’ best hope foroperational funding. She questioned whether the bill would survivethe committee process.

“That’s the only way to get up the money, but I don’t thinkwe’ll even have a chance to vote on it,” Hyde-Smith said.

Barnett said the purpose for the funds would justify theincreases on the various products.

“We’ve just got to have this,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the centers would serve as a small psychiatrichospital for patients and could reduce the load at the statehospital at Whitfield.

“They would be treated there and never have to go to Whitfield,”Barnett said.

The crisis center was expected to have 16 beds, plus oneadditional bed to isolate patients with potentially contagiousillnesses. Its operating budget is forecast to be around $2.2million a year, and it would have about 35 employees.

Hyde-Smith also cited crisis center benefits.

“It’s not only going to help Lincoln County, but it’ll helpsurrounding counties that can bring their patients there,”Hyde-Smith said.