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Supervisors continue debate on how to handle mental patients

A day of discussing how to handle mental patients, whether Pearl River County is paying too much for its phone bill and the possibility of switching ambulance services kept the Board of Supervisors busy on Tuesday.

How mental patients are handled mental patients in the county has been under scrutiny as concerned citizens have kept bringing it back before the supervisors. Tuesday morning, supervisors were presented with an alternative to holding mental patients in the jail.

The county could hold them in the Gulf Coast Mental Health Crisis Center where they will receive treatment immediately and in most cases be released with in three weeks, said Jeff Bennett with Gulf Coast Mental Health.

Three weeks is not a set time frame but, “To make a long story short, the average length of stay is about three weeks,” Michael Maxey with Gulf Coast Mental Health said.

Bennett said the Crisis Center will not admit substance abuse patients or juveniles but has 40 beds to take mental patients and has no limit on the number of patients each of the four counties they serve can send, provided there is bed space, Bennett said. The Crisis Center’s trained personnel can administer the proper kinds and amounts of medication and care for their other medical needs provided the center is alerted to them, he said.

“We store the medicine and administer it to them,” Bennett said.

The crisis center also can not care for patients with critical needs, he said.

Bennett said if the county decides to begin using the facility, the most needy patients currently held in the jail could be admitted immediately, but more research is required.

A few issues need to be worked out, such as how long it would take before a mental patient is admitted to the crisis center from the time they are determined to need help. Currently it takes about a week for assessments and court hearings before admission, then there are transportation issues.

“Once a writ is issued here, you can bring them there and have evaluations done there,” Maxey said.

If the board decides to use the crisis center, there is still the issue of where to hold substance abuse patients, patients with critical medical needs and juveniles.

“There’s a lot of things to look at and a lot of things to iron out,” said Chancery Clerk David Earl Johnson.

Cost is a major factor. Bennett said annually the county would have to pay about $116,000.

Johnson said he budgeted about $220,000 to hold mental patients in the jail. The board estimates it would cost about $500,000 to send eligible patients to the crisis center and hold substance abuse patients at the jail, all at same time. Lumpkin said the board is not mandated to hold substance abusers, other than the juveniles. Even if the county decides to use the crisis center, it would have to pay for evaluations and transportation of each mental patient to and from evaluations and to the crisis center.

The county and the crisis center are trying to get hard figures to present at a later time.

Bennett said that medication for eligible patients could be covered by Medicaid.

If the space currently used in the jail can be freed up for inmates, the jail would have about 36 extra beds that could earn about $30 a day each from holding state or other out of county prisoners, Sheriff Joe Stuart said. That extra money could help offset some of the cost of the crisis center, although a major portion would go to help fund the jail.

“If we’re going to do anything about this problem, now is the time to do it,” District III Supervisor Larry Davis said.

To use the crisis center may lead to a 2 mill tax increase to help fund the estimated $500,000 in expenses, Board president Danny Wise said.

No decisions have been made, but with increased construction in the county and use of roads, the board needs to find a way to get by until the new houses begin to pay property taxes a year or two down the road. Until then the county has to foot the bill for additional infrastructure without additional income, Wise said.

“Dad gummit, it has to be done, we’ve got roads out there that need to be fixed,” Wise said.

Other board members objected to raising taxes since revenue is expected to increase with the increasing population.

“I think another year or two of scratching and clawing, we’ll be OK,” Davis said in objecting to a millage increase.

An unofficial vote indicated that there would need to be a tie breaker, since District V Supervisor Bettye Stockstill and Wise voted for the raise, and District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen and Davis voted against it. District I Supervisor Anthony Hales was not present for the unofficial vote.

Carl Overton with the Telecom Audit Group said his company may be able to help the county find savings in its phone bills. Overton said the county would be charged only if savings are found.

“If this county does not get a benefit for our services, you don’t get a bill,” Overton said.

For 25 percent of the county’s refunds or credits and 50 percent of the county’s monthly savings for a year, the company will do an audit over the course of 12 months to determine what the county has been paying for their phone bill, Overton said. If errors are found, savings begin to add up after Telecom trains the county’s accounts-payable personnel to look for the same things they look for, and teach them how to resolve problems, he said.

The board asked their attorney, Nova Carroll, to look over the contract that Overton left so they can make an informed decision.

Bobby Robbins, Nicholson Volunteer Fire Chief, informed the board that his department has paid off their Class A fire truck purchased in 1999. He also said that a Pennsylvania Fire Department donated about $60,000 in fire hoses to his department.

Implementation of county wide building codes may help Nicholson Fire Department lower their rating, effectively bringing down insurance costs. Robbins said that his department expects to be rated at a class 7, if all goes well in January.

“It has been our dream for years to go to a class 7,” he said.

Robbins also asked action that could be taken against the large number of dilapidated houses in the Greenbriar subdivision in Nicholson that are bringing down the beauty of the area.

A number of the houses have gone unoccupied since Hurricane Katrina, Thigpen said.

The board said that if the county has to clean up the dilapidated homes, then the cost of the cleanup will be charged to the owner.

Ambulance service in the county has been maintained by Emergy Stat for some time now, but that may change if legal issues are worked out and the board approves the change. Steve Grimm with Highland Community Hospital addressed the board about utilizing AAA Ambulance service instead of Emergy Stat. Already about 60 percent of hospital admissions go to Louisiana, and Alabama based Emergy Stat is no different since they are receiving Mississippi money, Grimm said.

“We doing a lot of this to drive that Mississippi dollar back into Mississippi,” Grimm said.

After its second executive session, the board voted for the board president to sign a partnership agreement with the Pearl River Valley Opportunity.

The board also;

— Acknowledged receipt of state warrant in the amount of $70,542 as reimbursement for the work done on a home on George Ford Road.

— Approved amending the international residential code, which lowered wind speed requirements to 120 miles an hour and approved another motion that lowered or added permit fees and licensing requirements.

The board will meet again 10 a.m. Sept. 7 for more budget deliberations and 9 a.m. Sept. 11 for a regular session.