County seeks solutions for mental health cases

Published 12:05 am Monday, March 28, 2016

NATCHEZ — Local officials met last week to discuss what can be done to help address Adams County’s high number of mental health commitments.

Now they will approach the regional mental health authority about starting what they call a “stabilization unit” in Adams County.

Adams County has Mississippi’s second-highest number of total mental health commitments, and is the No. 1 county per capita. The issue has arisen — not for the first time — in recent weeks as law enforcement and chancery officials have said the area needs a local treatment facility.

Currently, those who the court deems need commitment have to be sent to facilities hours away, and often have to wait days or even weeks for a bed in one of those facilities to free up.

In the worst instances, those who are committed may have to be housed in the county jail, which officials have said is not ideal for a number of reasons, chiefly that the person in question hasn’t committed a crime.

Chancery Clerk Brandi Lewis said after meeting with local law enforcement, representatives of the state department of mental health and Southwest Mississippi Mental health, and local mental health practitioners, she and others plan to approach the Southwest Mental Health Region 11 board about setting up a 16-bed Crisis Stabilization Unit in the area.

The only CSU in the state is currently affiliated with East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian.

“A CSU is a place where individuals with mental health issues can be placed and stabilized,” Lewis said. “It’s a place to assess the individual, find out whether or not they are in need of their medication or other treatment, get them stabilized and then get them back on the right path.

“They have found that it has better served those individuals in a community with mental health needs — that are so underserved in our community — throughout the state and nation.”

Lewis said the Adams County group would also set up a visit to East Mississippi State Hospital to see the CSU there.

In addition with meeting with the Region 11 board, Lewis said the Adams County group would also approach the governments in the other counties in Region 11 about partnering in the effort.

“We feel like if we could set up the facility here, where we have a large number of commitments, we could partner with them to get things moving forward,” she said. “If we could get past that step, getting commitment from the counties in our region, our next step would be to find a facility.”

While officials have expressed interest in the former Merit Health Natchez — Community Campus, which is closed, Merit Health’s administration has said the building is on the market for sale.

“We will start looking at other potential facilities,” Lewis said.

On the law enforcement end of the equation, the discussions this week included the potential of having local sheriff’s deputies and police officers certified as members of crisis intervention teams (CIT).

“The officers would go to a one-week training designed to not only help the community through helping those that have mental health issues but also set up effectual ways for our law enforcement to assist in situations where individuals with mental health issues require them to go on the scene of a call,” Lewis said

“It teaches them to de-escalate the situation and help the individual, to assist and manage when they are presented with a call involving a person who has mental health issues.”

The CIT training is free at this point in time, Lewis said.

“The sheriff’s office and the police department have just got to work with the CIT director on finding a time to send their officers for the training if they so choose,” she said.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said his office would partner with Lewis’ office to do whatever it can to help with the issue from a law enforcement standpoint.