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Mental Health Crisis Center now in limbo

Some local elected officials met with Gov. Haley Barbour andrepresentatives from the Department of Mental Health Wednesdayafternoon to discuss the status of Brookhaven’s Mental HealthCrisis Center.

The discussion was forthcoming, said Chancery Clerk TillmonBishop, but not very promising for the immediate future.

Bishop and District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett expressed theirconcerns that Brookhaven’s crisis center was the only one of sevennot already built, despite funding approval two years ago.

“We’re the only part of the state that doesn’t have one builtnow. Of course, none of them are staffed,” Bishop said. “I’mholding three patients in jail right now because they’re mentallyill.”

Patients awaiting beds at a state mental hospital are often heldat county jails “because they are a danger to their families orthemselves,” Bishop said.

The wait can be as short as a few days or as long as severalmonths, he said. The crisis centers were devised to bridge the gapand provide a place for mental patients to receive proper carewhile awaiting beds at the state hospitals.

Each of the seven facilities statewide were designed for 20 bedsand a staff of 30-40 employees.

Billy Buford, a member of the state Board of Mental Health, saidthat as of Thursday, every state mental hospital was full with awaiting list of more than 100 people needing treatment.

“These are people who need treatment right now,” Buford said.”And some would only be in for a few days for things likemedication readjustments.”

Many of them are harmless, Buford said, and do not have to beheld in a jail while awaiting beds. Instead, they can remain attheir homes.

Bishop said the governor is not opposed to the concept of thecrisis centers, nor is he opposed to the cost of the Brookhavenfacility’s construction. He is, however, concerned about theoperational costs of the seven facilities.

“Once those costs match the governor’s expectations of whatthose costs should be, he will approve the crisis centers to moveforward,” Bishop said. “The governor is right to worry about costs,but what I am concerned with is that we’re a year behind the restof the state in getting this facility prepared.”

The Department of Mental Health has projected operational costsat around $20 million annually, Bishop said, which is approximately$130,000-140,000 per bed per year statewide.

Barbour said yesterday he would approve about $10 millionannually.

“I think the Department of Mental Health will cut the costs asmuch as they can and still provide quality care, but I don’t knowif those cuts will be enough for the governor’s approval. In themeantime, we just have to wait.”

Buford agreed. The Department of Mental Health is currentlyreviewing its options to see where cuts can be made, he said.

Bishop said he and Barnett tried unsuccessfully to convince thegovernor to release the building funds so construction could beginon the Brookhaven facility while the operational costs weredebated.

Paul Jackson and Son Construction of Brookhaven was awarded thebid, but cannot begin the project until the funds have beenreleased. The money was allocated for the project when it wasapproved two years ago.

“There’s a need for that building,” Bishop said. “However, I dounderstand the concept of cost reduction.”