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Legislature to Look Into Changes for Miss. Mental Health

By Daniel Cherry | Published 14 Feb 2012 08:14pm | comments

Health leaders in the Mississippi legislature say dealing with flaws in the state's mental health system is among their top priorities. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how the state has to make a change soon or face penalties from the federal government.

With less than a week to file bills in the legislature, time is short for lawmakers to act on an order from the Department of Justice to make changes to how the state cares for the mentally ill. The DOJ says there has to be a shift away from institutional care to a community based model or they'll sue the state. Sam Sims the House Public Health Chairman says that's obviously something the Mississippi wants to avoid.

"We certainly don't want that to happen. We don't want to be faced with a $100 million fine. Simply, we don't have the resources. We've got to find the solution ourselves. There may be parts of the DOJ report that we don't agree with, but that's their report and we must look at it."

Mims says leaders will be meeting very soon to nail down the appropriate course of action. The Department of Justice says it costs about 150 thousand dollars a year to house a patient in the state's mental health institutions. Mary Troupe the Executive Director of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities says that should be enough to convince lawmakers to make the changes.

"It's not cost effective. Are we going to save money with everyone? No. But there are ways that these services can be provided that are much more cost effective and allowing people to stay in their communities and with their families."

The DOJ says Mississippi could serve four people in a community care model for what it pays for one patient in a mental hospital. Senate Health Committee Vice Chairman Hob Bryan says in these lean budgetary years, funding for necessary infrastructure is the big hurdle for the overhaul.

"People would rather be in a community where they can be out and free and move about than in an institution. Long-term that's the thing to do...short term those savings don't exist."

In 2010 Georgia settled a similar case with the DOJ by agreeing to make major changes to their mental health system over a five year period.

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