Health professionals respond to Gulfport Mental Health Center’s possible closure

Health professionals respond to Gulfport Mental Health Center’s possible closure

Gulfport, Miss. (WLOX) - The Gulf Coast Mental Health Center is facing major financial troubles. The multi-county mental health agency could shut its doors next month due to a lack of funding.

On Thursday, law enforcement and county officials met with the center’s leadership to learn more about the issue.

“What are we going to do differently so we don’t risk losing mental health for our community again?” asked Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania. “To have this kind of conversation about such a needed entity in our community is shameful.”

“We’re going to try to come up with something to keep these doors open," said Harrison County Supervisor Beverly Martin.

Martin said her board reached out to the Mississippi Department of Health after learning about the financial crisis three months ago.

“They offered to help data and tech services, but no funding. And at the end of the day funding is what it’s all about,” she stated.

Martin noted that several long-time employees familiar with insurance billing resigned and retired from the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center within the last year. She believes their departure created a ripple effect. As the center worked to train new employees, things began to fall apart.

“The staff members are not as familiar with the mountain of paperwork that is required to get these reimbursements and to get paid," said Martin.

Other mental health care groups on the Coast are ready to step in.

Megan Lockley with Gulf Coast Family Counseling said, "I would expect we’re going to see a big influx of those clients coming in, which is okay because we just hired two new therapists so we can take on some of that.”

“There’s going to be some more conversations around the coast to see who’s able to pick up folks in what capacity," said Kay Denault with the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi. She helped as the non-profit prepared for its annual fundraiser.

Denault says if the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center shuts down, the public will have less access to affordable and critical care.

“One of the main issues may be that they see people without insurance. So you’ve got folks with no means to pay," she explained.

However, Denault stressed that help is still available.

“We do have other providers on the Coast who offer the same type services.”

She says while the Mental Health Center’s future is undecided, anyone who may be affected should try to stay calm, rely on their learned coping skills, and talk to their doctors about alternatives for treatment.

County supervisors say they plan to work with the Mississippi Department of Health to find a solution.

Adam Moore, the Director of Communications with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, gave WLOX News the following statement on the Mental Health Center’s future:

“The Mississippi Department of Mental Health was made aware on Tuesday afternoon that Region 13 Gulf Coast Mental Health Center announced that it will end its operations next month. Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) are operated under regional commissions appointed by county boards of supervisors. DMH is responsible for certifying, coordinating and establishing minimum standards and services for CMHCs and other providers. DMH staff has been in contact with local and state officials to discuss possible outcomes that would allow residents in these coastal counties to continue receiving community-based services. The Board of Mental Health voted Thursday to authorize key DMH executive staff and attorneys to negotiate an agreement with the commissioners of Region 13 to provide limited financial resources, contingent upon a sustainability plan, for the CMHC to continue providing community-based services for their region.”

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