Mental health care access restricted locally

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, May 28, 2019

For people who are involuntarily committed to mental health facilities for crisis stabilization in Pearl River County, the time between when the court orders them to be committed and when they actually receive mental health services can be up to 21 days, said Chancery Clerk Melinda Bowman. This has been the situation for years, Bowman said.

Pearl River County is in region 13 for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health—a region that includes Harrison County, Hancock County and Stone County, Bowman said. Region 13 is the most heavily populated region in Mississippi, but only has 16 beds in its Crisis Stabilization Unit, she said.

“We need more beds. Especially in our region, we are hurting desperately,” Bowman said.

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The CSU is designed to stabilize patients in a mental health crisis, Bowman said, and is run by Gulf Coast Mental Health Center in Gulfport.  The county pays $12,000 per month to the center for all of the services they provide, Bowman said. This includes the CSU and a walk in clinic in Picayune, she said. Typically patients stay in the CSU for three days to two weeks, Bowman said.

There are fewer mental healthcare options for people who are being involuntarily committed because private facilities are typically not equipped to hold people who do not want to be treated, Bowman said. Even someone with Medicaid or private insurance who is being involuntarily committed usually is not able to stay in a private facility, Bowman said.

These patients wait at home with their family members for a bed to open up at the CSU before they receive any mental health care, Bowman said. If the patient is suicidal, the clerk’s office directs the family to take them to a local hospital, Bowman said. If the patient is extremely violent, they may wind up in county jail, Bowman said.

“When you hear stories from a patient and family about what they’re going through, it breaks your heart and we run into brick walls trying to find help for them,” Bowman said.

Medicaid only pays for 16 beds in a CSU facility, Bowman said, so to add more beds for crisis stabilization in the region, another facility would need to be built. Even building a four bed CSU facility in Pearl River County would help enormously, Bowman said.

Another option to provide mental healthcare for the involuntarily committed more quickly would be to create a county crisis intervention team, Bowman said.

The State Department of Health would give local law enforcement 40 hours of crisis intervention and de-escalation training. Then when a mental health crisis is called in to emergency services, law enforcement and a mental health professional would evaluate the person and get them the help they need, Bowman said. In other states, this program has been shown to cut institutionalization in half, Bowman said.

However, it is impossible to begin the program in Pearl River County without a local hospital agreeing to be a point of entry for the program, Bowman said, and currently none of the local hospitals are interested in taking that step.

“I’ve seen the statistics on this program and I’m not going to give up on trying to make PRC a CIT county,” Bowman said. “We’re going to keep pushing and working and trying to figure out something that would work for our citizens.”

Currently Pearl River County has three people waiting to get into the CSU and three people already occupying beds in the CSU, Bowman said.

County residents needing mental health services should go to the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center satellite office in Pearl River County at 211 Highway 11 South, Picayune. The Gulf Coast Mental Health Center crisis hotline is 800-681-0798.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.