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State funding could help solve two mental health care problems in Harrison County

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 8:30 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Pine Belt Mental Health announced Wednesday they had been awarded a $1.2 million grant to create a diversion facility for mental health patients.

While that facility would be designed to keep mental health patients out of in-patient facilities and provide them with the least restrictive and most accessible treatment, it could also keep Memorial Hospital at Gulfport from having to house patients waiting for a commitment hearing.

When Pine Belt’s Crisis Stabilization Unit in Gulfport is full, the county has to scramble to find a place to hold people waiting for a commitment hearing. On Wednesday, Memorial was housing four pre-hearing patients. Since Feb. 1 when Pine Belt took over for Gulf Coast Mental Health, 24 pre-hearing patients have been taken to Memorial. In Hancock County on Wednesday, two pre-hearing patients were being held in jail and another at a hospital.

Emergency rooms are not equipped to treat or maintain mental health patients. In addition, 80% of the people who have mental health writs issued against them do not have the means to pay for services, creating a further burden on the institutions that provide services.

“I think we got over a big hurdle,” said CEO of Memorial Hospital at Gulfport Kent Nicaud, regarding the news of the funding. “I worked over three years ago on a protocol process that we felt would be a good fit so we could fix some of this problem we are currently having with nowhere to put our mental health patients that needed our help.”

Everyone at the meeting agreed that pre-hearing placement is a persistent problem. A committee of Chancery Court judges and leaders from Memorial, Pine Belt and others will work to refine the concept of the diversion center, also serving as a point of entry for the county’s mental health patients and for pre-hearing placement.

“The committee and the community will have to figure that out,” said Executive Director of Pine Belt Mental Health Mona Gautier. “(The grant is) earmarked for Harrison County, so the committee that they’re going to set up is going to work those things out.”

She was optimistic that the county is motivated to make it work.

“It sounds like we have a really great start because this community had started looking at those things many years ago,” she said. “Looking at a diversion center is something that I believe these counties have looked at for a very long time. It would need to be a community effort, so other institutions, other entities would need to work together to make it happen as well.”

A facility would cost between $2.5 and $3 million a year to run so additional funding would have to be found.

If you or someone you know needs mental health resources in South Mississippi, CLICK HERE for more information.

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