No Medicaid money could put some patients into institutions

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Catastrophic and devastating is how Gulf Coast Mental Health Center officials describe being left out of this year's state Medicaid budget. The center's director said some services will more than likely have to be cut.

Right now, 6,000 South Mississippians turn to Gulf Coast Mental Health Center for help dealing with depression, substance abuse and other conditions.

"Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, that sort of stuff. We do a monumental amount of work with children," Director Jeff Bennett said.

Gulf Coast Mental Health Center is a non-profit organization, and one of 15 community mental health centers in Mississippi. Bennett said for every $1 the centers receive from the state in Medicaid funding, the federal government chips in $4.

"There was no money appropriated for the upcoming fiscal year, which is $22 million," said Bennett. "The mental health centers, in effect, will have to pay that match. We don't have the money, so I don't know how we are going to do it."

"We already have job freezes on, positions that we probably won't fill, and it's conceivable that we'll have to cut some programs," Bennett said. "That's not just Gulf Coast Mental Health Center; that's statewide. "

Bennett worries that without Medicaid funding from the state legislature, mental health care in our state is about to take a huge step back.

"I've been in this business for 35 years, and when I first got into it, we didn't have near the services that we have today," Bennett said. "We looked at primarily institutional care, the use of the state hospitals and things like that. Gradually over time, we moved into more and more community care, which is the best thing. Treat people in their communities."

"I fear we're getting regressive now. We'll move back to where people are going to the institutions because the services won't be available in the community. That would be a bad thing. When I say institutions, not just the hospitals, but the jails as well. "

Recently, Governor Haley Barbour vetoed a measure that would have given the community mental health centers $7 million from the state's rainy day fund to cover deficits from the last fiscal year.

Gulf Coast Mental Health Center serves Harrison, Hancock, Pearl River and Stone counties.

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