House committee hears hours of testimony on mental health resources in Mississippi

Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 7:19 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippian’s mental health issues are impacting more than just the state hospitals. Tuesday, a House Judiciary B subcommittee came together to talk about potential solutions.

“If a fifth of your population in the state of Mississippi has a serious mental health disorder, a brain disorder, that is 600,000 people,” said Angela Ladner, Executive Director of the Mississippi Psychiatric Association. “That is a huge number.”

The Calhoun County Sheriff testified to the subcommittee that many of those individuals end up behind bars as a default.

“My perspective on this is from a sheriff who runs a jail,” described Calhoun County Sheriff and President of the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association Greg Pollan. “It seems like we, as a general rule, are the mental health facilities in most counties which is so unfortunate. Committals waiting to be transferred to other facilities. No beds available.”

Where should they go?

“We have got to be able to have a system that is workable. That a person can enter that system, get the services they need and go back into their community,” noted Ladner. “We do not need to have an over populous state hospital system. That should be the last resort, not the first.”

Some mental health professionals described that the recently launched 988 line is one way to reduce law enforcement involvement.

“This stop-point alone, 80 percent of calls are resolved,” said Dr. Katherine Pannel, Medical Director for Right Track Medical Group. “The patient gets the help they need, and that’s the end of it.”

The legislature approved ARPA funds to go towards other in-between steps, including crisis stabilization units and court liaisons that have been piloted in three north Mississippi counties.

“Right at 30% of the of the commitments that we’ve had had been diverted and have not had to go to the state hospital have not had to go to jail have not had to go to a crisis center,” noted Lee County Chancery Clerk Bill Benson.

DMH reported that the wait list for acute beds is improving as they continue to battle staffing woes. The number of people waiting for acute psychiatric commitments stood at 119 in January of 2022. It is currently 45, and the average number of days they’re waiting stands at 11 days.

“I completely agree with the statements that have been made,” said Director of the Mississippi Department of Health Wendy Bailey. “No individual that has a serious mental illness should be waiting in jail for an acute psychiatric bed because they have been committed. We do need to work on access. We do need to work on diversion. I think there’s good strategies and good models in other states, and I think we have models in our own state that have already been built. We need to look at that on a statewide basis. We need to increase our workforce to where we do have staffing to where we can increase that capacity. And then I think a lot of this is also relationship building. Several people mentioned they have great relations ships with their community mental health centers. And then some people mentioned maybe not. So a lot of this is relationship building at the county and the community level. We want to be there to support that.”

Rep. Sam Creekmore says there will be mental health-related bills filed when they return in January.

Among those being considered?

The expansion of the court liaison program and increasing guidelines for who serves on commissions for the community mental health centers.

“I think we have a lot of the resources already here in the state of Mississippi, but they’re not all working together in concert,” noted Creekmore. “And to get that going will make a big difference.”

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