By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Both the House and Senate passed legislation Wednesday designed to bring consistency to Mississippi’s divergent mental health system.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed without dissent the Mississippi Mental Health Reform Act of 2011, which attempts to establish a set of basic services that would be available statewide. The House passed the legislation 103-14.
Much of the opposition in the House came from those dissatisfied with the work of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and from those concerned that the legislation would put an unfunded mandate on local governments that provide revenue to the 15 community mental health centers.
Public Health Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the bill would not cost any additional funds to state or local governments.
“In my opinion, the system is evolving,” Bryan said. “This bill is moving in the right direction.”
The mental health system, he added, “is not something we will turn on a dime, but this is a step in the right direction.”
Bryan and House Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, have been working in recent years to redefine the system. Holland said, “This will have the biggest impact on mental health of anything we have done in the past 15 years.”
Under the current system, Bryan said, several entities are responsible for providing mental health services in Mississippi, but the primary responsibility falls to the 15 community mental health centers. Each county is in a community mental health center district.
Bryan said the services vary center to center. The bill would require the centers to report to the Department of Mental Health what services they are providing.
For instance, he said some centers have people on call to respond if someone needs mental health services at 3 a.m. Others do not.
“What the bill tries to do is to find out what services are being provided,” Bryan said. “If services are not being provided, we will see what we can do about it.”
In addition, the bill establishes a committee to develop best practices in dealing with the mentally ill and to establish core services that should be available statewide.
If the Board of Mental Health determines the community mental health center or some other entity is not providing those core services, the board would be responsible for finding an entity that would.
Bryan said he believes the people working in the area of mental health mean well, but there is a lack of coordination.
“I will not represent this bill as a cure-all,” said Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg. “But it is a step in the right direction.”
The House and Senate passed different bills. But Holland said he believes the language in both bills is almost identical. The leadership will have to determine which bill to advance to the governor.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601)353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.