New crisis center set to open

Published 6:00 am Friday, November 30, 2007

Almost a decade of planning and more than one year ofconstruction will come to an end Tuesday at 10 a.m., when officialsgather to mark the opening of the Brookhaven Crisis InterventionCenter.

District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett said the 14,557 square-foot,$2.7 million crisis center would operate like a miniaturepsychiatric hospital, allowing short-term, local care for thementally ill. The facility, which will serve 10 counties inSouthwest Mississippi, will be staffed with psychiatrists,psychologists, psychiatric nurses and normal medical staff.

“It’s a much-needed facility,” said Barnett, who has pushed forthe development of the crisis center in the state’s political arenafor many years. “I’m very proud that we finally got it. It’s goingto be very valuable to the people, not just in Brookhaven orLincoln County, but of Southwest Mississippi.”

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The facility has been a long time coming. The originallegislation to fund the construction of the crisis center, andseven others like it around the state, was passed in 1999.

However, funding shortages caused the cancellation of theconstruction contract in 2004. It was 2006 before the legislationcould be bolstered and a ground-breaking ceremony held.

The crisis center will have the capacity to simultaneously treat16 adult male patients. The center is designed to primarily handlemale patients, but, working in conjunction with sister facilitiesaround the state, the center will administer to female patients asnecessary.

Depending on the severity of a patient’s mental illness, thecenter can either treat and release the patient into supervision orhave the patient transferred to a state hospital.

The process of transfer is the reason for the crisis center’sbeing. State hospitals sometimes fill up and run short of beds, andwhen a mental patient committal cannot be immediately transferredfor treatment, the only solution has been to house that patient inthe county jail.

“We have to hold them here until beds become available,” saidLincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing. “We deal with those patientspretty regularly. We usually have around three to five eachmonth.”

Rushing said housing mental patients can sometimes create astrain at the jail.

“Whenever we have a mentally ill patient, we have to work thejail population around that to keep them from coming into contactwith each other,” he said. “Whenever we have more than one or two,it can be a problem. We have had as many as three at a time.”

When Brookhaven’s Crisis Intervention Center goes into operationon Tuesday, the problem of jailing mental patients will belessened, but not eliminated.

Ed LeGrand, the executive director of the Mississippi Departmentof Mental Health, said mental patients may be transferred directlyto the crisis center upon their committal without having to be heldin the county jail. However, if there are no vacancies at the statehospitals or the local crisis center, then jail time once againbecomes the only option.

“We think it’s going to alleviate some of the problems we’ve hadwith housing patients in the jail,” LeGrand said. “Whether or notit will eliminate it, that depends on the number of commitments thechancery clerk’s office sends to the department. That’s somethingthat we have no control over.”

Likewise, the chancery clerk’s office has no control over thenumber of people in the community with a mental illness. At least,with the crisis center in operation, that option will not have tobe exercised as often as it has in the past, officials said.