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Open house details MAC mission plans

It was more than one year ago when D’Iberville’s Daniel Richardwas arrested for breaking into a neighbor’s house.

As a youthful offender medicated for hyperactivity, he was able toavoid serving time in a juvenile facility and was committed toBrookhaven’s Mississippi Adolescent Center, a mental healthfacility where young boys with intellectual or developmentaldisabilities are treated.

After spending a year at MAC, Daniel is done with breaking andentering – he’s got plans for his life.

“I want to open a hotel, maybe in Texas,” he said. “At first, Ithought (MAC) wasn’t for me, but after I’ve been here a year -yeah, it’s a good place. I can’t wait to see my parents.”

Daniel explored those plans last week at a disability summit forself-advocacy in Jackson, where MAC Director Shirley Miller wasproud to see him game planning for the future. Not bound by autismor more severe disabilities, he’s one of MAC’s higher-functioningclients, and he’s got a chance to make it when he leaves.

“That’s what we want – he can work out in the community at hishighest potential,” Miller said. “People with disabilities want towork. They want to make their own money, to take care of themselvesand be active members of society.”

That’s the message Miller hoped to get across to more than 60visitors to MAC Tuesday afternoon, when the facility held its firstopen house event in more than three years. The past two years haveseen the facility change its name, mission and leadership, and it’slong been mentioned as a target for state budget reductions andclouded by rumors that it’s a juvenile prison.

Tuesday was meant to set the record straight.

“We’re a teaching facility,” Miller said. “We had a focus of kidswho had some conflicts with the law, and that’s not our focusanymore. The kids we have now have intellectual and developmentaldisabilities, and their behavior is such that they can’t be handledat home. The kids we had were more street smart – these kids havedifficulty adapting.”

Daniel and a handful of the other 32 clients being treated at MACare all that remain of the old mission of treating criminalcommitments, and the facility is now operating more like a truemental health treatment center, not a juvenile detention hospital,so to speak. Clients are admitted and discharged regularly, Millersaid, and soon criminal commitments will only be handledcase-by-case.

MAC’s mission now is to rehabilitate young males, age 13-21, andprepare them to function in their homes and society. The treatmentsoffered at the facility include skills in behavioral interventions,communication, function, independent living, prevocational,recreational, transitional and self-help.

But MAC may have to limit some of those treatments if fundingdeclines much more. The facility’s budget once stood at $5 million,but has been cut down to $4.3 million since the economic recessionbegan hammering at state revenue. The Mississippi Department ofMental Health even has an emergency plan on file in case thefacility is forced to close, and is prepared to shut down one ofits three dormitories if need be.

“If we can hold our own, we’re good. If we lose some more money, wemay have to make cuts I don’t want to make,” Miller said.

One reason MAC consistently finds itself in the middle of budgetbattles is because it’s 100 percent taxpayer-funded, ineligible todraw down matching Medicaid dollars other mental facilities use tooffset their costs.

But Miller’s administration is working to change that, addingcontract nurses and other medical personnel to meet Medicaidrequirements. She hopes to have the facility reviewed by July1.

“We have to get all our ducks in a row before we apply withMedicaid,” she said.

Until Medicaid steps in, funding MAC is up to the Legislature,which is still plugging holes in the fiscal year 2010 budget andfaces an almost $800 million shortfall for fiscal year 2011.

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, skipped out on the HouseTuesday to get a firsthand look at MAC, taking a private tour ofthe Brookhaven Crisis Intervention Center beforehand. He’sconvinced both facilities deserve funding.

“It’s an extremely necessary service that’s rendered here forpeople who – through no fault of their own – can’t take care ofthemselves,” Evans said. “Yes, they cost money, but there’s somethings you do not because you can afford it, but because the humanreturn is so great.”

Brookhaven Mayor Les Bumgarner has already had to fight for onelocal state facility this year – the Mississippi School of the Arts- and he said MAC and the CIC are important, too.

“The state is probably concerned about things being run moreefficiently, and we’re in line with that. But we’re not in linewith closing it down,” he said. “We’ll work with the state andLegislature however we can to make it more efficient.”