Crisis center fate still unknown

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The House Appropriations Committee met Tuesday in a calledmeeting to question the director of the state Department of Financeand Administration on why funding for a mental health crisis centerin Brookhaven had not been released.

“We’re not giving up on this crisis center,” said District 92Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, a member of the House panel. “This year we dohave the money to operate it and appropriated the money for sevencenters.”

House Bill 210, currently under consideration in the SenateAppropriations Committee, would authorize operational funding forseven mental health facilities, including an unconstructed centerin Brookhaven.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Bonds for the construction of the seven centers were approved in1999.

Brookhaven purchased a 4.5 acre parcel of land on Brookman DriveExtension in 2000 for approximately $90,000 and donated it to theDepartment of Mental Health for the center. The mental healthdepartment then purchased an adjoining section in 2002 for futureexpansion and a parking lot.

A contractor’s bid for the Brookhaven center was approved inFebruary 2004. However, the state Department of Finance andAdministration wrote the contractor a letter in May 2004 cancelingthe bid.

Six of the seven planned facilities have built. They are inAlcorn, Bolivar, Grenada, Jones, Newton and Panola counties.

Of those, only the center in Corinth is fully operational. Theother five facilities are running at 50 percent because the fundingis not available to fully staff them.

“In 1999, no one anticipated we would have funding shortfalls(the next year),” said Kym Wiggins, DFA public informationofficer.

In retrospect, she said, it was not a “financially sound”decision to build the six existing centers.

The Brookhaven center was never built, Wiggins said, because “itdoesn’t make much sense to build a facility if you can’t fund itsoperation.”

The position of the DFA matches that of Gov. Haley Barbour, whohas previously stated that the center would not be built until itcould be utilized.

House Bill 210 would do just that, said Barnett,R-Brookhaven.

“We’re being shortchanged,” he said. “The money is out there (tobuild the center). It’s in the bank.”

Barnett is confident the Senate will pass the bill authorizingoperational funding and believes the DFA should release the moneyto build the Brookhaven facility.

Wiggins said Wednesday that DFA Executive Director Col. J.K.”Hoopy” Stringer has made no promises that the Brookhaven centerwould be built even if the operational funding becameavailable.

“I think Col. Stringer has made it clear that if the funding isthere, it is something that we will revisit,” Wiggins said.

Revisiting a decision is not the same as changing its outcome,Barnett said. The lawmaker said he wants assurances that theBrookhaven center will be built and staffed if the operationalfunding is provided.

The current system does nothing to help the mental patients, hesaid.

Mental health patients in southwest Mississippi are presentlybeing held in county jails until a bed becomes free at thestate-sponsored mental health hospitals.

Lincoln County Jail Warden Ralph Boone said it is not a fairsystem for the patients nor for the jails.

“We are not equipped nor staffed to manage mental patients,” hesaid. “I sure hope we can do something about that. There’s no placefor them here.”

Boone estimated 40-45 mental patients a year are held at thejail for up to 30 days before they can be transferred to a suitablefacility.