Report urges more community care

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, March 29, 2012

     The opening of Region 8’s expanded mental health treatment center this week means Lincoln County has what the U.S. Department of Justice says Mississippi needs more of: community based mental health care.

     In December, the Department of Justice released a highly critical evaluation of Mississippi’s mental health services, concluding the state stands in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The report singled out for disapproval Mississippi’s reliance on large, institutionalized treatment centers rather than community-based care.

     These large treatment centers have “led to the needless and prolonged institutionalization of adults and children with disabilities who could be served in more integrated settings in the community with adequate services and supports,” according to the report.

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     Brookhaven’s District 92 Rep. Becky Currie called the report an “I told you so moment.” The Republican lawmaker has repeatedly pushed legislation to reorganize the state Department of Mental Health.

     “I have been fighting this for so long,” Currie said. “This is fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves.”

     Though mental health care statewide continues to look grim, Currie said the presence of Region 8 in Brookhaven has greatly improved the quality of Lincoln County’s care.

     Region 8 has approximately 3,000 patients in Lincoln County right now, but continues to add 80 to 100 patients a month, said Region 8 Executive Director Dave Van. Van expects 6,000 to 8,000 Lincoln County patients may eventually be served.

     The new, 6,000 square-foot facility that opened Monday on Highway 51 upgraded a much smaller building Region 8 rented from King’s Daughters Medical Center.

     Though Brookhaven may be on the leading edge of mental health care in Mississippi, Currie said the rest of the state needs to be caught up, quickly.

     “A lot of people don’t have the community support that we now do (in Brookhaven),” Currie said.

     Democrats aren’t offering any more rosy a picture.

     “I think we’ve got to do something,” said House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, District 53 representative from Bogue Chitto. “If not, we’re going to be popped by the federal government.”

     When the Legislature appropriates money for state agencies, Moak said the Department of Mental Health must be properly funded.

     “I don’t think Mental Health has been anyone’s priority,” Moak said.

     Currie filed several bills this session to overhaul the department. One, most notably, would have fired the executive director and dissolved the board.

     “In business, if you do this badly, you get fired,” Currie said.

     All of Currie’s bills died in committee, however, leaving appropriations the only way to legislatively address concerns about the department.

     Sam Mims, R-McComb, chairman of the Public Health and Human Services committee, said legislative solutions of the sort offered by Currie didn’t seem necessary yet.

     “I have been in constant contact with our House leadership, the speaker’s office and the governor’s office,” Mims said. “At this point, there does not seem to be any legislative action needed to address the DOJ report.”

     As to whether the Department of Mental Health will see a funding increase as Moak proposed, or suffer a cut as seems likely for most other state agencies, Mims said it’s too early in the process.

     “We will look at the Mental Health budget, we will look at the DOJ recommendations and see how they fit that process,” Mims said.

     For her part, Currie admitted dissatisfaction in the Legislature’s continued failure to take direct action.

     “It’s been a real disappointment,” Currie said. “At same point it will get fixed. I just hope it’s not too late.”