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Judge considering center for drug, alcohol help program

Court-ordered rehabilitation for drug and alcohol offenders maysoon be a locally based option for those facing charges in LincolnCounty Justice Court, a choice authorities say would provide themwith better options for sentencing and enhance the effectiveness ofsuch treatment.

Lincoln County Justice Court Judge Ralph Boone and Post OneProbation Officer Roger Leggett made a quick inspection of NewhavenRecovery Center Thursday during the facility’s annual open house todetermine if it would be a viable treatment center for the manydrug- and alcohol-related cases that come through the localcourts.

“We wanted someone in Lincoln County we could use so the peoplearound here wouldn’t have to go so far to get help,” Boone said.”I’ve had people come into my courtroom and break down and cry.They need help, and I’m looking for someone to get them somehelp.”

Currently, the justice court does not utilize a rehabilitationcenter for its offenders. Leggett said the court’s only course ofaction concerning rehabilitation for drug and alcohol offenders isto send them for an assessment, but a short-term rehab facilitywould provide a better and longer lasting service.

“We’re not going to be able to help people if we can’t find theright and good facilities,” he said.

The judge’s and probation officer’s inspection of Newhaven isthe first step in a set of rehabilitation goals set forth by Booneand Post Two Justice Court Judge Ann Reeves when they assumedoffice in early 2008.

“I’ve got people I’m having to put in jail to dry ’em out,”Boone said. “With [Newhaven], we can send them to get professionalhelp.”

Boone’s tour of Newhaven was just that; nothing has been madeofficials concerning the justice court’s sentencing options. Boonewas, however, optimistic upon completion of his review.

“I think we’re going to be able to use these people,” he said ofNewhaven. “We’ll just have to try ’em and see.”

Newhaven has plenty of space available for the judge’s trialruns. Newhaven Director of Alcohol and Drug Services Dr. NormanCollins said only about 10 of his facility’s 36 beds are occupied,but the small census does not reflect a lack of need for the 42-daytreatment program occurring there.

Collins said many Lincoln County residents don’t even know thefacility on Nalco Lane exists, but he’s looking to change thatawareness – and the way the center operates.

“My biggest thing since I’ve been here is trying to make surethis facility and staff can provide quality services to theindividuals we serve, and then we can market that product to reachother people in need,” he said.

Collins said there are likely many Lincoln County residents whocould use Newhaven’s programs to clean up and break theiraddictions if they were shown the true nature of the facility.

Newhaven, which operates alongside the Lincoln County LifeSkillsCenter under the Southwest Mississippi Mental Health Complex inRegion 11, does not operate like a prison or hospital, Collinssaid.

The center provides 24-hour care for 42 days, detoxification,counseling, recreation and many other forms of therapy. Thefacility also offers prevention and after-treatment services.

Many people could take advantage of the facility if they couldget passed the stigma concerning drug and alcohol treatment aswell, Collins said.

“It’s confidential here, and I’m very serious about that,” hesaid. “We have (Health Insurance Portability and AccountabilityActs) laws, and I guard them with everything that’s in me.”

Besides the programs already offered at the facility, Collinshas been working to institute more since he assumed his positionlast August.

He hopes to one day develop a yearlong treatment plan to combatthe risk of relapse in some patients and combine the two centersunder one roof. Collins also plans to begin actively recruitinglocal support for the center from churches and variousorganizations.

Perhaps Collins’ biggest goal is to make the facility eligibleto accept insurance and Medicaid.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to people checking intoNewhaven, he said, is money. The cost of a 42-day stay is slightlymore than $6,000, with low-income patients allowed to pay $850 on asliding scale based on family size and income.

All of those dollars are needed, said Region 11 ExecutiveDirector Dr. Steve Ellis. SWMMHC receives only small appropriationsand grants from state government and the Mississippi Department ofMental Health – which it operates alongside rather than under – anda $10,000 allotment from the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors.The majority of its funding, he said, comes from fees forservices.

Consequently, the small budget organization consistently runs inthe red, Ellis said. Losing even a relatively small amount byorganizational funding standards hurts – a recent $17,000 cut togrants from the department of mental health was enough to almostfund one case manager position, he said.

“You don’t make any money doing alcohol and drug treatment theway we do it,” Ellis said. “We do it because it’s an important andneeded service. We’ve had to double and triple up on duties in somecases so we could maintain our direct services staff.”

There has been progress, however. Ellis said the SWMMHC lastmonth recorded its best December since 2004.

“We’ve been able to pull off a difficult task – improving ourprograms while maintaining our funding,” he said.