TUPELO – Hundreds came out on a stormy Monday night to raise a ruckus in defense of the North Mississippi State Hospital and other mental health programs.
The mental health forum at Itawamba Community College-Tupelo drew nearly 400 people from around the region and came as a lack of state budget funding threatens the 50-bed state hospitals in Tupelo and Purvis, two other facilities and community mental health centers.
“Any sheriff in 82 counties will tell you this is a facility we cannot afford to close,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson, who spoke as a professional who has to respond to calls involving the mentally ill and an individual who lost his mother to suicide.
Before the state hospitals were opened in Tupelo and Purvis, many of the people who were involuntarily committed as dangerous to themselves or others would wait for months in jail because there was no other place for them.
“Can you imagine your loved one having to go to jail because they were ill?” said Lori Dickerson of Tupelo, who spoke to the crowd about the care she received from Region III Mental Health Services, North Mississippi State Hospital and Batesville Crisis Center when clinical depression crippled her.
“I’m a living, breathing example of what mental health in North Mississippi can do,” said Dickinson, who was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to spend time in jail waiting for help. “Their team effort allowed me to take back my life from severe depression and severe anxiety.”
The Department of Mental Health is facing a potential budget crisis even if its state allocation remains level for the 2012 fiscal year, which starts July 1. North Mississippi State Hospital, along with South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis, Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton, Mississippi Adolescent Center in Brookhaven and 15 community mental health centers are at ground zero of the budget crunch.
The Department of Mental Health is facing a $17 million shortfall because of increased federal match rates will run out and because they need $20 million to fund half of the Medicaid match for community mental health centers.
“The state of Mississippi is at a pivotal crossroads,” said Ed LeGrand, executive director of the Department of Mental Health, “and every possible savings has been wrung out of the system.”
The cost-cutting has already taken a toll. Carolyn Dunn of Corinth attended the meeting for her son, who has battled schizophrenia for more than two decades. When he got a letter informing him that the state would no longer pay for his medication that was controlling his disease, he stopped taking it without telling anyone, Dunn said. Now he’s hospitalized, possibly long term.
“What kind of money are they saving now? Nothing,” Dunn said before the meeting began.
Gov. Haley Barbour has proposed a 7.25 percent cut in the Department of Mental Health state allocation. The state Legislative Budget Committee’s recommendation is expected to cover nearly all of the gap left by federal funding loss, but they have not yet addressed the match needed for community mental health centers.
State legislators Rep. Steve Holland and Sen. Hob Bryan, and U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, who were among a dozen lawmakers in attendance, challenged Barbour’s priorities of reducing the size of state government.
“There are other options,” Bryan said, referring to $500 million in state reserve funds. ” We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world … with all that wealth we can find a way to care for our sick and we can find a way to educate our children.”
Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MICHAELA MORRIS / NEMS Daily Journal