Mental commitments hit snag during COVID-19

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 11, 2020

People in Pearl River County who have been civilly committed for mental health issues or for alcohol or drug addiction are facing longer waits to receive care. In some cases those individuals wait almost two months in the county jail before they can receive treatment. Nine people were awaiting treatment when transports from the jail finally resumed earlier this week.

When someone files an affidavit requesting a person be committed, the Chancery Court can order that person to receive treatment or evaluation in state behavioral health programs. After someone is committed, they go to the Lenoir Rowell Criminal Justice Center to wait for an open bed in a state hospital.

There is limited space at the jail to house those people, and usually they are kept in the medical section of the jail until they can be transported, said Sheriff David Allison. However the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue.

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Typically the wait for a hospital bed takes two to three weeks, said Allison. But recently, some of those people currently in the jail have been waiting for almost two months, he said.
Allison said he does not know why transportations are taking so long, but he believes the pandemic has slowed the process. Concerned about the delay, a loved one of one of the people awaiting transport wrote the department. The department in turn reached out to the Senate office it normally contacts for help with people who have been committed and are awaiting transport, said Allison.

Employees were unavailable by phone, so the department had to reach out by email. For several weeks they heard no response and reached out again.

“We have more people here and more people coming. They need to make plans to get people from our jail and get them into the programs they need to go to,” said Allison.

Finally, the department received a response and transports are resuming, said Maj. Joe Quave. As of Wednesday, there were nine people at the jail awaiting transport, said Quave, and one was transported Thursday morning. Two more are scheduled to leave next week.