Community groups to take over state's crisis centers

JACKSON – Starting in July, the state’s seven mental health crisis centers will be run by community mental health centers instead of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.
The move is designed to save funds during the state’s current budget crisis and to make the operation of the crisis centers more efficient and more user-friendly for those needing mental health services, say the supporters of the transfer in operation.
Both the Department of Mental Health and the community mental health centers supported legislation during the 2010 session transferring the operation of the crisis centers.
The move also is in response to the national movement by mental health advocates to provide community-based care instead of institutionalized treatment.
“This will work better than what we had,” said Rep. Steve Holland,” D-Plantersville, chairman of the House Public Health Committee.
The seven crisis centers are located in Corinth, Batesville, Laurel, Brookhaven, Cleveland, Newton and Grenada, each with 16 to 18 beds.
They were created in the early 2000s by Legislature to house people who had been committed under civil proceedings while they waited to be placed at a state mental health hospital.
The goal was to curtail the practice of housing those people in county jails pending placement in the state mental health hospitals.
The crisis centers have operated as part of the Mississippi Mental Health Department, under the direction of the state mental health hospitals. For instance, the Corinth crisis center has been operated by the North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo.
As part of a hospital, the crisis centers had to adhere to costly accreditation standards. Plus, to be placed in a state hospital, a person must be civilly committed through the judicial system.
Voluntarily committed
It will not take a civil commitment for a person to be placed in a crisis center when it becomes part of a community mental health center. After the transfer, people can be voluntarily committed to a crisis center.
Charlie Spearman, executive director of the Corinth-based Timber Hills Community Mental Health Center, said that means a person needing help at midnight on a Saturday night, when no court for a civil commitment would be available, can go to a crisis center for treatment.
The state’s 15 community mental health systems are locally governed and operated, in part, through a tax levy in the counties they serve. The mental health services they provide vary from center to center.
The community centers, like much of government in Mississippi, are currently struggling. The Legislature did not provide funds to provide the state match for the Medicaid-eligible patients they treat, and many of the centers are having a difficult time coming up with the match.
State funds
The state, through the budget for the Department of Mental Health, will provide $1.5 million for the operation of each crisis center during the upcoming fiscal year.
Spearman said he believes that will be enough to operate the crisis centers. Spearman’s Timber Hills will be the only community mental health center to operate two crisis centers – in Corinth and Batesville.
Spearman said the goal, “is less people having to sit in jail” waiting to receive mental health treatment. “You still may have some – mainly people who are violent.”
As a pilot project, the Legislature transferred operation of the Grenada crisis center to the Region 6 Community Mental Health Center, based in Greenwood, in September 2009.
According to statistics provided by the Department of Mental Health, at the Grenada crisis center under the operation of the community mental health center, “the ability to accommodate both voluntary and involuntary admissions on a 24/7 basis has resulted in an 85 percent diversion rate from costly inpatient hospital care and has markedly increased the provision of timely mental health care within the community.
“This prevents the housing of patients in jail who are awaiting transfer to a state facility. Since the pilot project began, 55 percent of admissions have been voluntary and 45 percent involuntary with the average stay 11 days. A total of 209 people have been admitted.”
The redesign allows for a continuum of care where often patients receive treatment from the same medical staff in both the crisis center and after they are released back into the community.
Holland said often people “get off their medication” and need help and can voluntarily receive it through the crisis center and not have to be admitted to a more costly hospital setting.
“The crisis centers had turned into mini-hospitals,” Holland said. “We had people staying in the crisis centers 20 to 30 days. That was not the intent.”
In an effort to save money, Gov. Haley Barbour recommended, before the 2010 session began, closing all the crisis centers with the exception of Grenada, which was being operated by a community mental health center.
Instead, the Legislature opted to transfer operation of all crisis centers to the community mental health centers.
Officials say much of the current staff at the crisis centers will be retained after the transfer.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal