State budget stalls crisis center plans

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005

Amid tough budget times for the state, the prognosis for amental health crisis center in Brookhaven remains cloudy more thanfour years after the project was approved.

In 1999, Brookhaven was approved as one of seven crisisintervention center sites and a ground breaking ceremony was held ashort while later. However in 2005, following several down yearseconomically, construction plans for the local center remain onhold, state officials said.

Roger McMurty, with the Community Services Division of the stateDepartment of Mental Health, said construction funding for theestimated $2.7 million facility is available. However, there is nomoney to operate it after opening.

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Kim Wiggins, public information officer for the Department ofFinance and Administration, which oversees building projects, saidthe Brookhaven project is officially on hold. She cited the lack ofoperating funds as a reason for the project’s status.

“The bonding authority was given for the center, but there areno operating funds,” Wiggins said. “It’s our position it would befiscally irresponsible to proceed knowing on the front end thatthere are no operating dollars for the facility.”

Following a meeting with Gov. Haley Barbour several months ago,some Lincoln County officials suggested the lack of progress wasdue to the governor’s concerns about operating costs for thefacilities. The crisis centers are designed to serve as smallhospitals to treat people in need of psychiatric help but whocannot receive it because of limited space at other statefacilities.

The Brookhaven facility is the last of the seven waiting to bebuilt. Other crisis centers have been built in Batesville, Corinth,Cleveland, Grenada, Newton and Laurel.

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said the center isimportant for southwest Mississippi. However, because the centerhas not been built, the area is about a year to 18 months behindother parts of the state.

“I can appreciate fiscal responsibility, but I also understandthat every other part of the state has a facility when funds areready to go,” Bishop said.

The Mississippi Legislature last year added to fee to trafficcitations and other offenses to allow the centers to open atpartial capacity.

Mental health officials, though, told legislators earlier thisweek that some of the centers may have to close if agency budgetrequests are not met. McMurtry said any closures would depend onhow much funding is received.

State and local officials agreed the need for the centers,including one in Brookhaven, remains high.

“It’s obviously still needed and we still want it,” McMurtrysaid about the Brookhaven facility.

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett said chancery clerks are aware ofthe problems because if affects them so much. He and Bishop saidmentally ill patients wind up being put in jail because there is noother space for them.

“It’s put us in a very difficult position as far as our facilityis concerned,” Bishop said.

Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said it is heartbreaking forfamilies of patients who need treatment.

“I strongly support it,” the senator said of the Brookhavenfacility. “It has been needed for a very long time.”

While there appears to be little doubt about need, the questionof when the Brookhaven facility will be built remainsunanswered.

“It looks like for the time being it’s going to be held up untilthe economy gets better,” McMurtry said.