Mental health center touts successful approach

Published 6:33 pm Thursday, November 4, 2010

The starting pistol in the race for emergency mental health carein a community setting started three years ago in Brookhaven, whenthe Crisis Intervention Center opened up.

But the local CIC never really got off the line.

The $2.7 million Brookhaven Crisis Intervention Center andseveral others like it around the state were raised up with greatfanfare from 2006 to 2007, intended to serve as community-basedtreatment centers for patients in crisis situations. They wereintended to provide swift, at-the-moment relief. They were intendedto alleviate the problem of housing mental patients in jails whilethey waited for beds at institutions to open up.

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None of those intentions were realized in Brookhaven. Now,Region 8 Mental Health Services is running the race all overagain.

“We are operating this facility now the way it was intended tobe, like an emergency room,” said Dave Van, executive director ofLincoln County’s new mental health provider. “In the past, it wasrun like a mini-institution. Now, our job is to see patients, treatthem and return them to their families as soon as possible.”

Van and his Region 8 lieutenants hosted a reception at thecrisis center Tuesday for local and state lawmakers to showcasewhat the complex can do, explaining how the provider’s leadershipand methods can make it functional for the first time.

Under the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, the crisiscenter served basically as just an extension of the MississippiState Hospital and faced numerous budget cuts. It has also beenmentioned in the department’s plans for closure in tough budgettimes.

Efforts to farm the centers out to community mental health careorganizations and relieve pressure on the department’s budget begantwo years ago.

Now Region 8 is in control of the crisis center, operating itwith $800,000 less than its normal state allocation.

“I feel like we’re using tax dollars wisely and taking care ofthe community’s need,” Van said.

The need has been great.

Since Region 8 took over the crisis center on Aug. 16, 102patients have been admitted, split evenly between voluntary andcourt-ordered commitment. Of that number, only five have beenadmitted to the state hospital for institutionalization, with theother 97 being treated and released back into the community.

“Previously, 100 percent of those patients went to the statehospital, and 40-50 percent of those were held in jail while theywaited for a bed to open up,” Van said. “Since we took over on Aug.16, no one has been held in jail on account of mental illness.There are 77 other counties that wish they could make thatclaim.”

Efficiency is not the only attribute that has changed at thecrisis center.

David Mullins, administrator for both the crisis center andRegion 8’s main office in Brookhaven, said the coordination of bothfacilities – inpatient and outpatient – helps the region providebetter, more coordinated care. Additionally, the crisis center nolonger uses correctional-style admittance policies likestrip-searches and wash-downs.

“We don’t restrain anybody. We don’t lock anybody up,” he said.”When you treat someone with care and compassion, it’s amazing howquickly they get better.”

Local legislators, especially by District 92 Rep. Becky Currie,R-Brookhaven – a proponent of aggressive reform for the departmentof mental health – warmly embraced the new heart of the crisiscenter.

“I hope Region 8 in Lincoln County will be a leader in howmental health is supposed to be run in the state, since we’ve neverdone it correctly,” she said.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, was glad to seethe crisis center finally operating as it was intended.

“The fact we no longer have mental patients in jails makes youvery proud of what has been accomplished,” she said.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, implied Region 8’ssuccess with the center could have an impact on state budgetingnext year.

“When you start thinking about money and how money is used, andyou’ve been to a place like this, that’s something to think aboutwhen you have to start prioritizing,” he said.