Southwest Mississippi Mental Health Region 11 department director warns county federal funds, jobs, services at risk if they approve recommended state plan

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, April 18, 2023

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NATCHEZ — A director at Southwest Mississippi Mental Health Region 11 told the Adams County Board of Supervisors Monday that splitting the region in two will put at risk millions in federal grant dollars, programs and jobs.

Further, Margo Brooks, who is director of administrative service, MIS, Compliance and Human Resources, said splitting the region could also mean that individual counties that make up the region would be responsible for paying back millions in federal grant funds.

The issue stems from a 2016 lawsuit in which the Justice Department sued Mississippi. In 2019, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled Mississippi violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by having inadequate resources in communities to treat mental illness.

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As part of that lawsuit, Mississippi formed a mental health accessibility group to evaluate mental health services. Adams County is currently part of a nine county group making up Region 11 Community Mental Health Centers.

Bill Rosamond, coordinator of the mental health accessibility group, spoke to the Adams County supervisors on Feb. 22, 2022, and told them Region 11 does not have sufficient operating funds to sustain the required mental health services and that delivery of mental health services is inconsistent in the nine-county region.

Adams County Attorney Scott Slover said most of Region 11’s problems are thought to stem from inadequate billing of services rendered.

As a solution, the mental health accessibility group has recommended the nine-county Region 11 be split up with Adams, Claiborne, Jefferson and Wilkinson counties joining Region 15, which services the Vicksburg and Yazoo City area and the remaining counties — Amite, Franklin, Lawrence, Pike and Walthall joining Region 12.

“Region 11 has not been financially solvent in a long time, since before Bill Rosamond came into the picture. The state has been overseeing that region,” Slover said.

“While Region 11 services have gotten better, the financial state of the region has not,” he said. “It is believed that improper billing is the reason for that. Splitting Region 11 and putting the counties into two other regions that are doing things correctly — regions who have their billing straight — should fix the issue.”

One concern about the split is what would become of federal funds heavily depended on in Region 11 right now. Slover said he and supervisors have inquired about the potential for “clawback” of federal funds, meaning would the counties making up the region have to pay back federal funds granted to the region.

“We were told by Bill and his group that would not be an issue,” Slover said.

However, on Monday, Brooks said in the last two years, Region 11 has received more than $13 million in federal funding. She said those federal grants were issued to cover the entire nine-county region. If the region is split, it would no longer be in compliance with the guidelines for the federal funds it has been granted.

“Not completing the goals and objectives of the three grants, the federal government will likely come in and conduct an audit and could well ask for the return of some funds, creating yet a great deficit,” Brooks said.

She said the issue is one of poor management.

“Address the management problem but do not put the people served through 14 sites operated by Region 11 across more than 4,000 miles of some of the most rural, impoverished communities or more than 120-plus employees at greater risk,” Brooks said.

Slover said he is not sure if Brooks’ information is correct or how the division of the regions has been explained to her.

“Anytime you are going to merge or change organizations, there is going to be a winding down period, if done correctly,” Slover said after the meeting. “If we are going to change organizations, you want to go ahead and do that. The sooner you stop the bleeding the better off you are going to be.”

He said he plans to meet with Brooks and learn more from the information she has.

“In that winding down period, you are going to lose some grant proceeds. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a bad thing. Most of your funds come from charging for services with Medicaid and Medicare. More than half your funding comes from that, if properly billed,” he said. “The state does not want us to lose any mental health services we are providing. The state is very keen on keeping those services, so while we may lose some temporarily, we will rebuild them properly and provide more services for longer. My major concern is making sure the clawbacks are taken care of.”

Brooks said Adams County and Pike County are the largest in Region 11 and if they choose not to split, it won’t happen. However, she said Pike County supervisors voted on Friday to join Region 12.

Adams County has yet to vote on the matter, and does not have a date set for discussing the matter at a meeting.