Status conference held in Mississippi mental health lawsuit

Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 4:23 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Questions about Mississippi’s mental health system are still caught up in the courts, and Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves opened the status conference up to the public via Zoom.

“The court believes that in these type of institutional litigation, we should do all we can do to keep the public fully informed,” described Judge Reeves.

Reeves’ order calls for a court-appointed monitor to ensure changes are made to mental health services for adults with a serious mental illness.

“The crux of it is to help them avoid unnecessary institutionalization in a state hospital via improved community care,” explained court-appointed monitor Dr. Michael Hogan.

The monitor’s most recent report came out last month.

“There are improvements and there’s a there’s a way to go,” added Hogan.

Among the highlights are fewer people who were waiting in jail cells on beds, more people are starting to be offered core services and there are some improvements being made on discharging patients. The government notes the improvements but doesn’t stop there.

“I spoke to a mother whose son died by suicide in the year since the trial,” said U.S. government attorney Viviana Bonilla Lopez. ”She told me that her son died because the system failed him and that she hoped I could document that he was gone because he did not get the treatment he needed. In sum, while we are encouraged by the strides, status making the need for continued progress remains pressing.”

The state responded with some frustration.

“Unfortunately, after all the years, it appears that the state will never satisfy the United States,” said Jim Shelsen, attorney for Mississippi.

Joy Hogge with Families as Allies notes that there’s still a lot of things this case doesn’t address.

“I think people need to remember this is about adults with mental illness in the community mental health system with the most significant needs, it doesn’t include children,” noted Hogge. “And are they receiving this specific set of services that are already what the Department of Mental Health said they were offering when this lawsuit began? So it’s, it’s very narrow.”

The state is appealing the ruling from Reeves. They argued that case before the fifth circuit court of appeals last fall.

But no decision has been made yet.

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