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Newhaven backers plea for support

It was a time for honesty, and Lincoln County’s Kent Lambertheld nothing back.

“I was a drunk and a junkie, but I went to Newhaven in 1984.I’ve been straight since,” he said of the alcohol and drugtreatment program at Newhaven Recovery Center. “I became aproductive member of society, a reasonably successful businessman.I was nothing when I was drinking.”

Lambert and several other recovered Newhaven clients madeimpassioned pleas on behalf of that institution to Lincoln Countysupervisors Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to stop countyleaders from abandoning Newhaven’s operator, Southwest MississippiCommunity Mental Health Complex (Region 11), in favor ofneighboring Region 8 Mental Health Services. Region 8 is promisingto improve mental health care while creating 50 new jobs andbuilding a $4 million treatment facility if supervisors become theregion’s fifth member county.

Supervisors tabled the matter at the end of Wednesday’s meetingafter hearing Region 11 administrators and staff and Newhavenclients defend their organizations for nearly two hours, opting toreturn to the boardroom Thursday at 10 a.m. to vote on the proposedchange.

If supervisors vote to go with Region 8, a 36-year relationshipwith Region 11 – which formed in 1974 with Lincoln County as afounding member – would end.

The end of Region 11 would also spell uncertainty for Newhaven,which is owned by the Region 11 commission and can’t simply beturned over to Region 8. Region 8, meanwhile, already operates analcohol and drug treatment program in Mendenhall, bringing intoquestion the need for another program roughly 40 miles away.

The question was never answered during Wednesday’s discussion,though Region 8 Executive Director Dave Van said after the meetingLincoln County residents would have access to alcohol and drugtreatment one way or the other. Local patients could be bussed toMendenhall; Region 8 could lease Newhaven from Region 11; or Region11 could simply refuse to leave and continue operating Newhaven inRegion 8’s territory.

“If there’s an additional demand for alcohol and drug servicesin Lincoln County, Region 8 will build a new facility in LincolnCounty,” Van said. “But I don’t want to build a new facility andhave it sitting there empty because everyone is sitting down atNewhaven. Whether Newhaven stays or goes will be up to Region11.”

Joy Porter, who arranges alcohol and drug treatments for theMississippi Department of Corrections, argued the Mendenhallfacility might not be able to serve all of her clients.

“(Newhaven) is the nearest facility that is economicallyfeasible. If you shut down this facility, these people will have totravel, and they can’t. It’s going to be such a burden,” she said.”In my opinion, the war on drugs is not working, and if you don’thave facilities to help these people, I don’t know what you’regoing to do.”

Newhaven currently treats referrals from Adams County’s drugcourt and serves as a secondary detox center for Claiborne County.The Lincoln County Justice Court has ordered treatment at thefacility in the past.

Rita Bobkoskie, director of long-term services for Region 11,argued that non-indigent mental patients in southern Lincoln Countywho receive treatments at Region 11 facilities in McComb would seefees increase if the county drops its membership in the region.

“They may be charged $10 because they’re in our district, but ifyou go to Region 8, they may be charged $100 because they’re out ofour district. Do you know how close Auburn is to McComb, Mr. Moak?”she told board president Doug Moak, whose supervisor districtcovers the southwest portion of the county.

Several of the Newhaven employees gathered Wednesday wereworried about their employment. Region 8 has said it will hire asmany Region 11 employees as it can and still need more manpower,but questions remain.

“I’m 56 years old. To try to start somewhere new is a majorconcern I have,” said Trish Tillman. “Will I have to travel? Willmy credentials meet the requirements for what will beavailable?”

Region 11 Executive Director Dr. Steve Ellis defended earlieraccusations the region’s services are subpar and cautionedsupervisors not to be carried away by Region 8’s superior financialresources.

“Don’t make the mistake of assuming that increased fundingguarantees the outcome you’re looking for,” he said. “Money is agreat thing, but it’s not the answer to everything.”

Ellis went on to describe Region 11’s commitment to LincolnCounty, where most of the 10-county region’s programs are locatedand from whence around one-fourth of its clients originate. In thepast year, the region has expanded programs in Lincoln County andspent in excess of $1.7 million on programs and 38 staff positions.Lincoln County pays a little more than $53,000 annually to theregion.

“What I want you to weigh is the investment of $4 million(Region 8’s proposed facility) versus the investment of 35 yearshere in this county,” Ellis said to supervisors. “Relationshipscan’t be transferred. These have to be built from scratch.”