Crisis in Mental Health Care?

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Two years ago the state of Mississippi built a $1.5 million psychiatric crisis center in Newton to house mental patients until space becomes available at a state hospital, but that building is unoccupied.

When people with psychiatric problems are committed to a mental facility by a judge and the state hospitals are full, where can they go?

State Rep. Greg Snowden outlined the problem Monday at a meeting of the Lauderdale County Council of Governments.

"We basically don't have space for the folks that need to be committed and we have many of them in jails," Snowden said. "Of course, not only is that a financial strain on counties, but also it's, as we fully appreciate, jails aren't equipped to handle patients. It's not a good situation but they're not safe at home."

A few years ago, the state approved the construction of eight crisis centers statewide as psychiatric emergency rooms, but the 17 bed Newton facility, now two years old, has never been used.

"We've got one in Newton that is constructed and ready to go but we don't have the funding to open it yet. It's going to cost about $2.4 million to fund that. That's new money, recurring money, from here on out to fund that crisis center and there are eight around the state. So you're talking about $20 million investment. We know we need to do it, but that's $20 million right now we don't have," said Snowden.

In fact, of the eight authorized centers only the one in Corinth is operating. The Newton facility was designed to serve a nine county area. Today it serves no one.

Across the road is the former Clark College, now known as the Central Mississippi Residential Center. It was purchased by the state in 1996 and is a rehab center for mental patients who can be treated with medication and hopefully restored to society.

It has 48 patients. Without state funding, the crisis center has none.