Adams County officials say local lunacy facility needed

Published 12:03 am Saturday, March 5, 2016

NATCHEZ — Adams County is No. 2 in the state for lunacy commitments, but no local facility exists for the treatment of those the court determines are a danger to themselves or others.

County leaders are hoping the mothballed Merit Health Natchez — Community Campus facility may help solve that problem. MHN says that for now the facility is for sale.

Last year, the county saw 175 of its residents committed. Since the New Year, 23 more residents have had lunacy cases processed through the Adams County Chancery Court system.

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The only county that has more commitments is Rankin County, which with approximately 116,000 more residents than Adams County, is the state’s fourth most populous. Adams County ranks 26th in population. Chancery Clerk Brandi Lewis said she doesn’t know why Adams County’s rate is so high, but said 10 years of work with the chancery system has shown her that the county, “always had a lot of lunacy commitments.”

“We are not a tiny community, but for a community the size we are, that (number) is pretty significant.”

But with no local facility, commitments have to wait for a bed to free up in the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield or somewhere else across the state. That wait can sometimes take weeks.

“I think there is a need in our community — and in the surrounding communities — to at least start to look for some potential options of something closer, preferably here in Adams County,” Lewis said.

“If someone has filed an affidavit to have their loved one or friend committed, they obviously need the help (as soon as possible).

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten raised the issue of transporting lunacy cases earlier this week, telling the board of supervisors he may need to hire another transport officer to deal with the problem.

“Because we don’t have anything here, our guy is having to take them up to Whitfield, or across the state to East Mississippi (State Hospital) in Meridian or down to Biloxi,” he said Friday. “Our closest drive is three hours.”

Then the issue of housing those who have been committed must be addressed. They can have the person wait at home, or they can be housed in the county jail, which has two padded cells away from the general population.

“But they don’t need to be housed here,” Patten said. “They aren’t criminals — they’re sick. We don’t have the appropriate facilities or staffing to take care of someone who has been committed.”

Lewis agreed that the county lockup is not the appropriate place for lunacy commitments to be housed.

“It is unfortunate we don’t have a holding facility for them, but our hands are kind of tied because that is our only option,” she said.

That’s where the former MHN—Community Campus comes in. Merit Health closed it in November as the hospital consolidated with the main MHN campus at the former Natchez Regional Medical Center location.

Patten and Lewis said they plan to meet early next week, and have reached out to MHN Chief Executive Officer Eric Robinson to see if a portion of the old hospital could be activated as a psychiatric wing.

Lewis said she would also discuss the possibility with the chancery judges and special masters — the attorneys who are appointed to act as judges in lunacy cases in order to present a full picture when lobbying the cause to Merit Health, a private company.

“The Community facility is open (to other uses), and it is no better time to approach them and try to work in partnership with the county and help the people who need it,” Lewis said. “We are going to try to arm them with as much information as they need to go back to Merit Health (corporate offices) with it.”

Robinson said Friday the Community campus building is currently on the market.

“We understand and are sympathetic to the need for expanded mental health services in our state,” he said.

“As a result of our hospital consolidations, we have listed the former Community Campus property for sale.  Any potential buyer of the facility would be responsible for determining what services could be provided at the facility. If another healthcare related organization were to occupy the space, we would desire to work with them to ensure continuity of care for patients in the area.”