Officials lining up against

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 11, 2010

A proposal by Gov. Haley Barbour to close state mental healthcrisis centers because of state budget concerns continues togenerate discussion and opposition from many directly associatedwith the situations.

Speaking at Wednesday’s Kiwanis Club meeting, Chancery ClerkTillmon Bishop said those mental health situations are not a majoreveryday concern for many people – until they are impacted by afamily member in need of care.

“Then it becomes personal,” Bishop said.

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Bishop, who is secretary-treasurer of the state chancery clerksassociation, said the creation of seven mental health crisiscenters, including one in Brookhaven, has drastically reduced theamount of time a person who has been ordered committed has to waitfor care. He indicated the wait for local and area patients is onlyabout a day.

Sheriff Steve Rushing, who also has speaking out on behalf ofthe crisis centers through his role in the state sheriffsassociation, said that is a far cry from the days before thecenters when mental patients were housed in jails simply becausethere was no other space for them.

“I remember before the crisis centers we had to wait weekssometimes,” Rushing said.

Bishop said his office handled about 100 mental commitments in2009 and there have been about five so far in the new year. Hecalled having to have someone committed “the most gut-wrenchingpart of the job I have.”

Rushing and Bishop acknowledged concerns about jail personnelwho are not trained to handle mental health patients. Bishopsuggested that is another reason for maintaining the ability totreat patients at the crisis centers instead of holding them injail until Whitfield space becomes available.

“They’re not criminals, they’re sick,” Bishop said.

State lawmakers have been less the receptive to the idea ofclosing the crisis centers. Center oversight by differentmanagement is one idea that has been suggested.

As the 2010 legislative session picks up steam, expect thecrisis center discussion to continue. Bishop is hoping for a goodoutcome.

“These crisis centers do not need to be closed. Period,” hesaid. “Somehow they need to remain open.”