New Mississippi mental health report released and legislative action could fill in some gaps

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 7:48 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi’s mental health system is still under the microscope by the feds. But the court monitor’s most recent report shows some signs of improvement.

”I wouldn’t want people to think, oh, things are fixed,” noted Joy Hogge, Families as Allies Executive Director. “They’re not. Some of these high end issues, more things are getting in place to make them better. But that doesn’t mean our system of care is responding to people’s mental illness in a way that most helps them live in the community.”

Care in the community is the end-goal. There was also a concern that too many people were ending up waiting in a jail cell for a bed, but not charged with a crime.

Staffing was a problem but the court monitor’s most recent report notes that some beds were re-opened at the state hospitals.

Because of that, from December to mid-January, an average of 23 people were waiting for a hospital bed each day. Eight of those were waiting in a jail. Compared to the first quarter of this fiscal year, 72 people were waiting for beds. Twenty-four of those in jail.

“There is this group that we suspect is out there and seems to be out there where they haven’t even gone through the commitment process yet,” added Hogge. “But they have a mental illness, and they’re ending up waiting in jail for the commitment hearing. And I don’t think there’s data yet on those people.”

But some of that may get filled in if the Governor signs off on a bill the legislature recently passed.

“It requires chanceries to record not just who they admit and who they don’t admit, and where they go and follow up they’re going after,” explained bill author Rep. Sam Creekmore. “And it also requires them to do it on a on a monthly basis and submit that.”

It also calls on changes to the community mental health center boards to include the chancery clerk and law enforcement.

“This will hopefully bridge that gap, you know, that is to get these people treatment as quick as possible, and not necessarily send them to the state hospital, because local resources are there in most regions to take care of this,” added Creekmore.

That bill will also expand the court liaison program. A handful of those are around the state now, helping divert people away from the institutions and jail. But, this would expand that to 50 statewide.

It would also require law enforcement officers to receive mental health training.

The Department of Mental Health sent the following statement:

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health (DMH) remains appreciative of the efforts undertaken by Dr. Hogan and the time spent working with him and the opportunity to provide him and his team with the information requested. DMH continues to be committed to enhancing the availability of community-based mental health services in Mississippi and working with the Court Monitor to review progress in the state mental health system.

As the Third Report of the Court Monitor states, all required services were funded in FY22 and remain funded in FY23, and DMH is pleased the monitor reports the state is in compliance or partial compliance with all key issues. One key activity DMH has undertaken in the time frame covered by this report is a partnership with the Center for Evidence Based Practices at Case Western Reserve University regarding fidelity monitoring, and the agency appreciates Dr. Hogan mentioning this effort, particularly his acknowledgement of the fidelity review his team monitored as one that was performed well by DMH staff.

The agency likewise appreciates his acknowledgement of the re-opened beds at state hospitals that had been temporarily closed due to staffing challenges, allowing for the continued decrease of both the overall wait list at hospitals and the number of individuals waiting in jail. The latest information available at the time Dr. Hogan drafted his report showed the average number of people waiting was 23, with eight of those waiting in jail. Dr. Hogan called these numbers substantial progress. This information is collected daily by state hospitals and we are continuing to see improvements from FY22.

As the report notes, DMH has made strides in hospital discharge planning, and the improved steps the agency is taking will be helpful in this area as well. DMH also anticipates seeing the results of the Court Liaisons, who work directly with chancery clerk staff to identify community treatment options, and the Clinical Diversion Coordinator, who monitors Crisis Stabilization Unit census and wait lists at state hospitals. This report of the monitor also states it is his view that these efforts will enable compliance with requirements for diversion from hospitals and training for chancery courts.

The Third Report of the Court Monitor concludes by recognizing that the scope of progress made since 2011 is substantial, with state officials working well to make improvements. DMH remains committed to continuing that progress and supporting a better tomorrow for Mississippians with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual or developmental disabilities.

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