Tupelo mental health hospital spared for time being

JACKSON – The executive director of the Department of Mental Health told House and Senate leaders Tuesday his agency can make it until July 1 without closing North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo or any other facility.
But that won’t be the case next fiscal year if the Legislature does not provide additional funding, said Ed LeGrand.
The agency has put together “a worse-case scenario” to deal with what will happen if the Legislature does not replace about $17 million in federal stimulus funds that will be lost at the beginning of the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. Plus, LeGrand said his agency cannot afford again to take money from other programs to provide half of the state matching funds to draw down federal Medicaid dollars for the 15 independent community mental health centers, which include locations in Tupelo, Oxford and Corinth.
The centers provide a litany of mental health services and in some instances prevent patients from having to be treated in a more costly hospital setting.
LeGrand said if the stimulus funds are not replaced and about $20 million provided to the community mental health centers, some Department of Mental Health facilities faced the possibility of closure.
If facilities are closed, LeGrand said, “You look at programs with the smallest number of people and the fewest employees to see what you can do in terms of closure.”
LeGrand said the focus would be on closing an adolescent center on the Gulf Coast and a residential center in Newton. The Tupelo hospital could be included if another round of closures were needed.
LeGrand, state Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham and Higher Ed Commissioner Hank Bounds were among the agency heads to appear before the Legislative Budget Committee on Tuesday. The committee is hearing from agency heads this week before preparing a budget recommendation for the 2011 legislative session.
A common theme Tuesday was the need for the Legislature to replace federal stimulus funds that will be gone after this fiscal year. Hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funds have plugged holes left in the budget after an unprecedented drop in state tax collections during the past two years.
State tax collections are beginning to improve. But whether the improvement will be enough to offset the loss in stimulus funds remains to be seen.
If something is not done, LeGrand said the state runs the risk of returning to the method of dealing with the mentally ill in the early 1990s when most patients were housed in county jails until a bed in a state hospital became available.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal