Bill to aid mental health

Published 12:18 am Friday, February 22, 2008

NATCHEZ — Mental illness can be devastating for any family. And the facilities to treat the mentally ill in Adams County only compound the problem.

Those in immediate need of mental help face two scenarios.

They may go to a state-run facility, if a bed is available, or they face being housed in the county jail.

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But hopefully a new bill, authored by state Sen. Bob Dearing, will change this problem.

“To house them in the county jail is unacceptable,” Dearing said.

Bill 37 would provide $10 million for Natchez Regional Hospital to add a psychiatric ward.

Dearing said he regularly receives calls from the family members of the mentally ill practically begging for his help.

“These people do not want their loved ones to end up in jail,” he said. “They need to be in a hospital.”

The deadline for the bill to be voted on is approximately three weeks away.

Dearing said if the bill gets out of committee, it will then go to the senate, house and then needs to be signed by the governor.

And while that may sound like a lengthy process, Dearing said, if passed, the bill — to be funded by bonds — would become effective on July 1.

Dearing said he has confidence in the bill’s success.

But Natchez resident Opal Vines is not waiting until July to find out what will happen to the bill. Vines was recently appointed to the Southwest Mental Health Board of Commissioners.

Just after her appointment was made official Vines traveled to Jackson to meet with speaker of the house Billy McCoy to discuss bill 37.

Vines said the meeting went very well.

“He was very receptive to our needs,” she said.

And the needs of the county are very apparent.

There is no system of aid in Adams County.

But the lack of available help in Adams County is not unique.

Supervisor Darryl Grennell said at a recent conference of the National Association of Counties — a group of which he is a member — the issue of lack of mental health assistance was broadly discussed.

Grennell said several people at the conference also expressed strong disapproval of the storage of mentally ill individuals in their county jails.

“This is a nationwide problem,” he said.

Grennell said the presence of a mental health facility in the local hospital would be an enormous asset to the county’s residents.

“This is long over due for the area,” he said. “This is something the county needs.”