Governor Phil Bryant criticizes Mississippi’s Mental Health Department as it defends itself

Published 10:14 am Monday, June 26, 2017

By Jeff Amy

Associated Press

JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant on Friday reiterated his position that Mississippi’s Mental Health Department isn’t doing enough to get people out of institutions, even as the department argues that it is moving in the right direction.

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“We need to make them part of the community. We need to be able to provide outpatient services to them and let them work, live and play right in their communities as we all enjoy,” Bryant told reporters.

The Republican said he still wants to directly appoint the department’s director, a move legislators rejected this year. The agency is now overseen by a board Bryant appoints.

“We might be able to draw more attention, more support, more of a direct effort by not only this governor but governors of the future to make sure those services are being delivered,” Bryant said.

In the meantime, the Republican governor says he will focus on board appointments. As of July 1, seven of nine board members will be his appointees. Bryant declined to say whether he thought some institutions should close, saying that’s up to the board.

The comments come after a consulting report was finally released after a settlement in a case involving juvenile mental health services. The Clarion-Ledger repeatedly sought the report’s release in court, but a judge accepted the state’s arguments that it should remain sealed because it was supposed to be part of settlement talks.

The case that was settled was originally supposed to be a class action on behalf of all juveniles. Ultimately, though, it involved just one 19-year-old man who claimed Mississippi was unfairly shuttling him through mental hospitals, centers for people with intellectual disabilities and group homes. The terms of the settlement have not been filed in the court docket.

Separately, the U.S. Justice Department sued the state last year, saying it was violating federal law by relying too much on institutions for people of all ages who need mental health services. Ten months after it was filed, that case is just barely getting started.

The Technical Assistance Collaborative is a Boston-based nonprofit group hired by the state. It analyzed Medicaid fee-for-service information for budget years 2010 through 2014 and managed care information for 2013 and 2014. It found that Medicaid spending for such youth had become more reliant on institutions in years leading up to 2014.

The report said use and spending trends for home- and community-based services were “largely in the right direction,” but more work is needed to promote those services.

In a statement released this week after the report, the Mental Health Department argues Mississippi “has made great strides in services for children and youth and will continue to in the future.” The department noted that as part of budget cuts this year, it’s cutting a 50-bed unit for mentally ill children and teenagers at East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian, consolidating it with another such unit at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield. The department said both units had vacancies because it’s been expanding community services.

“Even as the agency receives budget cuts, DMH’s focus will remain on building up direct services in the community to ensure capacity is available to reduce the reliance on inpatient institutional services,” the department stated.