Mental facilities may fall to budget ax

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mississippi Department of Mental Health officials are developinga contingency plan for the possible closure of Brookhaven’sMississippi Adolescent Center, the Brookhaven Crisis InterventionCenter and other mental health facilities across the state iffunding levels fall too low in fiscal year 2010, departmentofficials said.

MDMH Spokeswoman Wendy Bailey said a total of 11 mental healthfacilities across the state operating on general funding could facetermination if the Legislature under-funds the department in thedeveloping budget or if Gov. Haley Barbour makes further cuts tothe agency. Barbour docked MDMH’s approximately $630 million budgetin January by 5 percent – more than $30 million – and has said morecuts may be in order as state revenues decline.

MAC operates on an approximately $5 million annual budget andemploys around 100 people. The crisis center operated on a $2.4million budget is employs 35.

Bailey said MAC – formerly known as the Juvenile RehabilitationFacility – is joined by the North Mississippi State Hospital inTupelo, the South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis, the CentralMississippi Residential Center in Newton and all seven crisiscenters across the state in developing the plans. She said all 11facilities could face closure because they are funded directly fromMDMH’s budget and receive no Medicaid match funding.

“If we get another large cut in general funds, we will have tolook at reducing the number of programs offered,” she said. “Wecan’t take another large cut… this is basically an agency-widebudget crisis.”

Bailey also confirmed that state auditors have been inspectingMAC over the last few weeks, but said the audit is a routineprocedure whenever an MDMH facility undergoes a change inleadership. The facility came under the direction of interimdirector Marc Lewis earlier this month after longtime directorRegina Terry Hebert retired.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who prepares MDMH’s annualbudget, said the plans being developed for MAC specifically aremore far-reaching than just a closing contingency.

The center said the department is taking a close look at MAC’smission and success rate to determine if services offered there areduplicated at other facilities. She said the facility has no”reporting mechanism” in place to let state board members know theresults of its treatment.

Hyde-Smith said such a study is not being conducted at otherMDMH facilities.

MAC could be assigned a different mission, Hyde-Smith said, butshe doesn’t believe the facility will be closed.

“If those objective aren’t being met, (the plan is) to preparefor possibly using the facility for other services,” Hyde-Smithsaid. “I feel the interim director is doing an excellent job, andwill work closely with the board to get the answers to theirquestions. I feel that we are on a positive path and that thefacility will continue to exist in Lincoln County and to employ theapproximately 100 workers in the Lincoln County area.”

State Board of Mental Health member Johnny Perkins, however,said the situation surrounding MAC is much more serious.

Perkins said the purpose of the study being done at the facilityis meant to find justification for closing it. He said he was theonly opposition in the board’s 8-1 vote to conduct the study, whichcame during a heated meeting in Oxford last week.

Perkins said auditors at the facility were actuallyinvestigating allegations of misused and stolen property, includingtools, kitchen equipment and entertainment equipment meant for thefacility’s mental patients.

Mississippi Office of the State Auditor Spokeswoman LisaShoemaker said her agency’s auditors looked at property issues atMAC at the request of MDMH, but an investigation was not opened.She said MDMH would likely handle the matter internally.

Whether wrong has been done at MAC or not, District 92 Rep.Becky Currie is angered over the possibility of closing MAC andother facilities to save money instead of trimming what shebelieves to be an inflated budget.

Currie has already butted heads with MDMH earlier this year in apublic hearing in the House Public Health Committee, in which shequestioned officials about approximately 140 houses that are usedfreely by administrators and others working for the department.

“They want to close our facility, but they waste all thismoney,” she said. “For me, they really don’t care about thepatients. They care about taking care of all the members of theirlittle kingdom.”

Currie said the department’s $632 million budget is even biggeronce federal funding and other sources are added in, leaving plentyof money to avoid closing mental health facilities.

“I just have to wonder, can’t we tighten out belts instead oflaying people off?” she said. “Especially the people on the frontlines taking care of patients, who are the people who are going tobe cut – not the administrators who work in the big offices andlive in the free houses. They will not close (MAC) without a fightfrom me.”