Cuts Proposed for Mental Health Services

Mississippi lawmakers are facing a deadline Apr. 1 to vote on the proposed $5.5 billion spending plan for next fiscal year. The proposed budget for 2014 calls for more than $6 million to be cut from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

Although cuts are almost certain, local mental health officials are encouraged by strides that are currently being made, and the outlook for the future.

In all, Mississippi legislators are proposing a 2.8% decrease in funding next year for the state's Department of Mental Health. Although this will have some affect on mental health agencies in East Mississippi, officials we talked to say that overall, the outlook is better than what it has been in recent years.

"Obviously, there will be budget cuts. We don't have our final budget yet, but we're not facing the closure that we've faced in the past," says Debbie Ferguson, who is the executive director for Central Mississippi Residential Center (CMRC) in Newton.

Democrat Bo Eaton represents District 79 in the Mississippi House. As a member of the legislative appropriations committee, he's calling on budget writers to restore the more than $6 million dollars in proposed cuts. Eaton says he feels strongly that people who are mentally ill need full state support. Unlike some other groups, he says that people who are mentally ill do not have 'high-paid lobbyists' working for them.

Meanwhile, the head of East Mississippi State Hospital says that one thing that has been working for his agency is the opening of group homes over the last 6 to 7 years in Kemper, Clarke and Lauderdale Counties.

"Our group homes are not just homes anymore," says Charles Carlisle. "We bring those individuals in daily and we train them on how to go back and get into the community and so that's one of our big things that we're doing right now."

Carlisle says the opening of the 9 group homes within the three county area, and the existence of immediate care crisis centers such as CMRC in Newton, have helped to reduce the waiting list for East Mississippi State Hospital from almost 40 three years ago to an average of about three.

There are four state supported psychiatric hospitals in Mississippi. One of those is East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian. It served more than 1,000 patients last year and has 1,100 employees. Each year the hospital has a $127 million impact on East Mississippi.