Harrison County seeks answers for mental health patient needs

Updated: Jun. 22, 2021 at 3:03 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - You may remember when we told you about a $1.2 million grant awarded to Pine Belt Mental Health to create a diversion facility for mental health patients. It’s designed to provide those in need with accessible treatment.

However, a bed availability issue at the facility means patients may not have anywhere to go once they’ve exhausted county resources. The Harrison County Board of Supervisors explored those challenges Tuesday.

“It’s on the chancery clerk to dial for beds,” said John McAdams, Harrison County Chancery Court Clerk. “Our obligation for treatment is not being fulfilled.”

At the chancery court level, clerks like McAdams decide if those people need mental health treatment. From there, he writes what’s called a writ. Then Harrison County Sheriff’s Department deputies take those who are under that writ to Crisis Stabilization Units.

“Because you average about 400 writs issued a year, which means pre-placement hearing and possible commitments,” McAdams said. “The Crisis Stabilization Unit doesn’t have enough beds, and there are no other CSUs in the area that can take them. They end up going to the local emergency rooms, which aren’t equipped to deal with that.”

Right now at the state level, they said they don’t have enough beds or staffing for those patients in need. The Board of Supervisors sees the state with $636 million in funding and thinks some of those beds should be open.

“So what are they doing with $636 million that we are struggling to find beds for our people?” said District 2 Supervisor Rebecca Powers.

For temporary solutions, the board is first going to work on a contract with local behavioral health units to try to take some of those mental health patients in need. Meanwhile, District 117 State Rep. Kevin Felsher plans to meet with state mental health officials to try and find some type of compromise.

“Director Wendy Bailey with the State Dept. of Mental Health has a monumental challenge in front of her, and that is to comply with the federal government’s request that as many people are not institutionalized as possible, that mental health be centered around a community mental health approach, but at the same time, staff the state hospitals so they can take on the patients that need to be housed,” Felsher said.

The county is also considering adding more sheriff’s deputies to help transport those patients to and from mental health facilities. Felsher plans to meet with state mental health officials this Friday.

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