Currie bill eyes changes for mental health dept.

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Brookhaven lawmaker has introduced legislation calling forreforms from the top down in the state’s largest agency.

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie’s House Bill 27 stipulates newrequirements for the head of the Mississippi Department of MentalHealth and state-approved standards for treatment of mentalpatients throughout all the department’s facilities.

Currie, R-Brookhaven, said she wrote the legislation in responseto the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Reviewof the department – a 91-page study released last June.

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“It was not a good report,” she said. “One of the primedeficiencies the PEER report showed us was that there is not onemedically-trained person running the department of mentalhealth.”

To remedy this, the first provision in Currie’s bill calls forthe appointment of an executive director who “shall be a dulylicensed physician with special interest and competence inpsychiatry, and shall possess a minimum of three years’ experiencein clinical and administrative psychiatry.”

The bill goes on to establish the need for a comprehensivestrategy for running the department, a direct response to the PEERreport, which states, “strategic planning does not appear to be atthe core of the Board of Mental Health’s management strategy.”

Currie pointed out the Mississippi State Department of Health isadministered by a physician – Dr. Ed Thompson – and feels anofficial trained in the field of mental health should lead thedepartment of mental health.

DMH Executive Director Ed LeGrand III, who succeeded long-timeexecutive director Dr. Randy Hendrix upon his retirement in April2007, has worked in many personnel and administrative positionswithin the department since 1974, but is not a licensed physician,according to a short biography on the Mississippi PreventionNetwork Web site.

Reading from the PEER report, Currie said the department ofmental health, which employs approximately 9,000, experienced a$128 million increase in its annual revenue between 2003 and 2007,spending $2.5 billion during that time. Mississippi ranks secondnationally in spending per capita for institution-based care, thereport says.

“With as much money as the taxpayers of Mississippi spend onmental health, we should have a psychiatrist in that department,”she said.

Currie said the department’s initial requirements for itsexecutive director called for an experience psychiatrist, but therequirements have been softened over time.

“Legislation has been passed in recent years to make itconvenient for people within the administration to take over thejob as executive director,” she said.

Currie dropped the bill into the House’s hopper on the first dayof the 2009 session after preparing it since last summer, she said.The bill is awaiting action in the House Public Health and HumanServices Committee.

“I’m going to ask the chairman if I can take up my own bill,”Currie said. “We had 300 bills submitted to public health, and awhole lot of them die because they’re not ever taken up. My concernis not with anyone or anything other than patient care, and thatthe Mississippi taxpayers’ money is well spent.”