New legislation would create temporary position to evaluate mental health services
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 3/14/2020
Mar. 14--TUPELO -- While the federal courts are implementing mandated changes to the state's mental health system, the Mississippi Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would create a temporary position in state government for a person to evaluate the effectiveness of community mental health centers.
State Sen. Hob Bryan, a Democrat from Amory, is the chairman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, and he authored Senate Bill 2610 that would create a Coordinator of Mental Health Accessibility position within the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration for three years.
The coordinator will be responsible for reviewing the structure of mental health centers, evaluating which mental health services are offered in counties, reviewing financial statements, and moving counties to a different community mental health region if a certain region's services are inadequate.
Currently, there are 14 different community mental health regions throughout the state, which means there are 14 different institutions that provide mental health services to the state's 82 counties in addition to the state hospitals.
Most of these community centers have their own board with county representatives on them. According to the bill, the coordinator would be responsible for communicating with these boards and local representatives about services.
Bryan told the Daily Journal that even though there will be one coordinator to evaluate the community services of all the counties, the coordinator will have other resources and employees to carry out the duties laid out in the bill.
"He or she will have some sort of staff," Bryan said. "He or she can rely on the mental health employees to provide them with information."
Even though the position would be focused on evaluating mental health services in counties, the position would be created in the state's finance department and operate independently of the mental health system. Bryan told the Daily Journal this was a "logical" department to create the position.
If the legislation passes both houses of the Legislature, Gov. Tate Reeves will have until April 20 to appoint the coordinator with the consent of the Senate. The coordinator must have a master's, doctoral or law degree from an accredited college and not have less than five years of professional experience.
The passage of the bill comes at a time when the federal court system is currently forcing the state to bring its mental health services into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal civil rights law that stipulates that government entities cannot discriminate on the basis of disability.
On Feb. 25, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves appointed Dr. Michael Hogan as a special master to implement changes to bring the state's mental health department into compliance with the ADA guidelines.
The appointment comes after Reeves ruled in September 2019, that the state was in violation of federal law by not providing adequate mental health services to state patients in communities.
Bryan acknowledged to lawmakers on the Senate floor that the state's mental health system has more work that needs to be done and that the federal courts will likely be implementing reforms for several years, but he hopes this legislation is a step in the right direction.
"We are drifting in the right direction, but I think drifting is the right term," Bryan said of mental healthcare access. "We aren't going full speed."
Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it will be transmitted to the House of Representatives. Lawmakers have until the end of the month to pass legislation that originated from the other legislative chamber.
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