EDITORIAL: Mental hospitals

Gov. Haley Barbour’s executive budget recommendation, released Tuesday, makes proposed sweeping changes in how and how much Mississippi spends taxpayers’ money on government services and obligations.
Some of the changes would affect the most vulnerable Mississippians like children in public schools and patients in mental hospitals.
All the proposed changes require careful scrutiny, and some probably have strong enough merit to justify enactment.
We believe an abundance of caution must be used in dealing with proposals to close mental hospitals – four of them:
– North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, and its two crisis centers in Corinth and Batesville;
– Central Mississippi Residential Center, and its crisis center;
– South Mississippi State Hospital, and its crisis center;
– Brookhaven Crisis Center and Cleveland Crisis Center; and,
– Mississippi Adolescent Center.
The closures would help cut $18 million from the Department of Mental Health’s budget – a 6 percent reduction from 2010 and 11 percent from 2009, from $272 million in 2010 to $254 million for 2011.
Barbour, however, must get his proposal through the mental health/public health committees of the House and Senate, and he does not enjoy support from either of those chairmen: Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville and Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory.
Holland said closing the North Mississippi and South Mississippi acute psychiatric care hospitals would push mental care backward from the state’s commitment to bringing it to all regions.
Bryan expressed similar, more general criticisms, and said developing a consensus on all the proposals would be difficult.
In hard, factual terms, North Mississippi State Hospital has 197 employees and provided 25,583 days of care and served 792 patients during the 2009 budget year.
Since opening in 1999, this is its record:
– Total admissions: nearly 7,000.
– Total patients served: more than 5,500.
– Average occupancy rate is almost 100 percent.
– Average wait time after committal is two days – down from an average of 16 days.
North Mississippi hospital officials oppose the closing, stressing that Mississippi is the only state to have adequate numbers of psychiatric care beds.
The hospital’s official statement said, “We believe we have exceeded the expectations of providing in-patient services closer to home … and for lowering the waiting time for people needing these services … to two days or less in 99 percent of the cases.”
We think the people of Northeast Mississippi may have a different view of where the budget should be cut.

NEMS Daily Journal