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Board eyes mental health changes

Lincoln County is poised to discontinue its membership in thecommunity mental health region it helped found and pick up theservices of another that – as far as treatment goes – is promisingconsiderably more.

Supervisors will meet Wednesday at 1 p.m. to determine whetherto sever ties with Southwest Mississippi Mental Health Complex(Region 11) and become a member of Region 8 Mental Health Services,a geographically smaller but much better funded region based inmetro counties in the central part of the state. Region 8 officialshave promised to increase access to mental health services,construct new treatment facilities and create around 50 new jobs, apackage that will likely cause supervisors to end the county’s36-year relationship with Region 11 and become the newest payingmember of Region 8.

“We’re going to provide Lincoln County citizens a level ofmental health services that does not exist in Lincoln County atthis point,” said Region 8 Executive Director Dave Van, aBrookhaven native. “Region 8 will have all the services Region 11has and more.”

Van told supervisors Monday his organization would duplicate alltreatment programs currently run by Region 11 before adding otherservices. Region 8 will run those programs in various locations asneeded until the end of a two-year period, when hopes are anestimated $4 million facility will be built to operate them in acentral location.

Region 8 is expected to absorb all the jobs currently providedby Region 11 and add 50 more, most of which will be higher-payingclinical positions.

Region 8 would also likely absorb all Region 11 patients and beresponsible for operating the Brookhaven Crisis Intervention Centerthrough a contract with the Mississippi Department of MentalHealth. DMH is clearing out all the state’s crisis centers andpreparing to contract them out to regional mental health servicesby July 1.

Lincoln County’s membership fee in Region 8 would be $30,000 peryear for the first two years, increasing to $50,000 per year afterthat period. The county currently pays more than $53,000 annuallyto Region 11, where it has been a member since the community mentalhealth regional system was founded in 1974.

Region 11 currently operates five treatment programs in LincolnCounty, including the men’s and women’s alcohol and drug treatmentprograms at Newhaven Recovery Center, the mental health center, theLifeSkills Center and the club house program.

The county’s alcohol and drug patients will likely have tocommute to Region 8’s facility in Mendenhall until the new facilityis built, though a deal could be struck to lease the Newhavenfacility, which is owned by Region 11. Region 8 will seek to leaseand operate other facilities around the city for the dayprograms.

The new programs, facilities and clinical positions are expectedto improve mental health access in Lincoln County, which officialssaid has been lacking under Region 11. Van told supervisorsanywhere from 60-100 Lincoln County mental patients are dischargedto Region 8 from psychiatric treatment at Jackson-area hospitalsbecause doctors there can’t secure follow-up services from Region11.

Even Brookhaven’s Carlisle Henderson, an appointed member ofRegion 11’s board of directors, endorsed Region 8 during the Mondaymeeting and questioned the quality of his own region’sservices.

“I just don’t think the people of Lincoln County have accessright now,” he told supervisors. “It’s my opinion something needsto be done about that.”

Region 11 Executive Director Dr. Steve Ellis – who sat quietlyat the board meeting Monday, providing a little information hereand there without officially addressing the board – said he has noplans to counter Region 8 and defend his turf.

“There is very little I have (in) financial resources to matchwhat (Van) promised,” he said. “If I got up and promised thesupervisors everything he’s promising to do, I would be feedingthem a line of bull.”

Region 11’s resources are spread across 10 counties in SouthwestMississippi, covering the largest community mental health region inthe state geographically.

Many counties in Region 11 are small and kick in small annualcontributions. Last year, it served 1,220 clients in Lincoln Countyand spent $1.7 million on services.

Region 8, on the other hand, includes only Copiah, Madison,Rankin and Simpson counties. It has substantial resources and feweroffices to maintain. It serves an average of 22,000 clientsannually.

“Our entire millage for one year is about $330,000. I suspectMadison or Rankin contribute more than that by themselves,” Ellissaid.

Though Ellis is resigned to losing Lincoln County, he was upsetthat supervisors did not invite him or any Region 11 staff to anydiscussions or Monday’s meetings for a chance to defend theregion’s services. He said he was meeting with officials from thecrisis center, trying to arrange employment for that facility’sworkers in Region 11 when someone tipped him off about the boardmeeting.

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop and board presidentDoug Moak took the lead in seeking out Region 8, holding privatediscussions “two or three months ago.” Bishop said he phoned othersupervisors one-by-one to bring them up to speed on the possibletransition.

“I think it’s interesting that no one in a position of interestthought it was important to contact me or my staff about thismeeting. It says to me their minds are already made up,” Ellissaid.