In recent weeks the issue of mental illness and the role that it plays in crimes has been front and center. From last year's school shooting in Connecticut, to last week's triple murder in Wayne County, this is a growing concern. According to officials at one of the largest mental health institutions in Mississippi, the problem often comes down to dollars and cents.
As the second largest psychiatric treatment center in Mississippi, individuals have to be ordered by the court to be admitted to East Mississippi State Hospital. One of the criteria for patients is that they are deemed by the court as a threat to themselves or others. According to the director for EMSH, in East Mississippi there are not significantly more people suffering from mental illness, but instead, a change in the way that the hospital conducts business.
"We've had the same amount of cases," says Charles Carlisle."It's just that we're not a long term care facility and I think one of the things that we're moving forward in is that we bring people in and stabilize them, no longer do we keep the people for years on end."
Stressing that how long each patients stays at the hospital varies, Carlisle says once the patients are stabilized they are put into a transition program that will help them return to regular society. Once back in their normal environment, he says many are not able to buy the medication they need.
"Some of those medications are very expensive and medicaid will only pay for up to five, two brand names and two generics. So, if you have high blood pressure, diabetes it's usually the medical issues that individuals say, 'Well, I'm going to take my diabetes medicine,' or 'I'm going to take my blood pressure medicine,' and the psychotropic medications are the ones that they usually aren't able to afford or they don't take."
Carlisle says that's what leads to a relapse.
Meanwhile, the legislative budget committee for the state is recommending a $2.5 million dollar cut from East Mississippi State Hospital's budget for next year. That proposal, along with uncertainty about the future of medicaid in Mississippi, is leaving the hospital with tough choices for the future.
"There's no plan B. Medicaid is what we use to fund this hospital along with state tax dollars. So, as the tax dollars decrease as far as our budget then services will have to decrease."
East Mississippi State Hospital is one of four state psychiatric hospitals in Mississippi. It employs 1,100 people and serves 800 patients each year.