NMiss leaders proud of mental health care services

By By HENRY BAILEY

HERNANDO, Miss. (AP) — DeSoto County officials are heartened by numbers from Region IV Mental Health Services showing improved, expanded care and case management since the Corinth-based agency's arrival four years ago.

"We've built bridges, we've built jails. But I don't think we've done anything more important than this," Supervisor Bill Russell of Walls said of the board's decision in 2010 to switch from Oxford-based Region II.

Russell and his four fellow supervisors recently heard from Region IV executive director Charlie Spearman that on March 1 the agency was launching a new psychosocial program for the elderly at its facility in Southaven.

"And Region IV will be providing transportation for that," Spearman said. "If you want a program, we'll provide transportation to get your people there."

A community "hub" opened a month ago in Olive Branch to serve those with developmental disabilities, Spearman said.

"Among our services, we're helping young people to gain skills for working in the private sector," he said.

Starting next month, electronic record-keeping "goes live," he said of a $1 million project to enhance efficiency and response. Separate adult and child service facilities are in Hernando, the latter with a full-time clinical psychologist.

There are 2,005 active adult client cases right now, said Spearman.

Meanwhile, services for school district are expanding — the goal is a therapist in each of 40 schools — with more physicians and nurse practitioners available. A total of 1,274 youths receive services on a regular basis, including anger management help and group and individual therapy sessions.

The crisis team now numbers 16 members.

"They report 160 to 220 emergency contacts a night," Spearman said.

In 2010, there was dissatisfaction with the length of stay and numbers of lunacy cases held in the County Jail until Region II officials could remove them for examination, medication and other services.

"These people need treatment, not to be put in jail," said Supervisor Jessie Medlin of Olive Branch.

Region IV, he said, "has been getting these people out, getting them evaluated and on medication quicker" than Region II.

The number of lunacy cases by year in DeSoto County, about 260 in 2007 and 258 in 2008, was down to 50 in 2012 and 62 in 2013, reflecting improved treatment and intervention, said Spearman.

The average jail stay for lunacies was 21 days in 2007 and 17 in 2008.

"In 2013, it was down to three days," he said.

Cost per year for lunacies was more than $250,000. Since 2010, the figures have remained well under $50,000, he said.

DeSoto Sheriff Bill Rasco "has bragged on you many times," Supervisor Mark Gardner of Walls told Spearman.

"We're well pleased with the services," said Chief Deputy Macon Moore. Region IV "certainly gives us attractive options in working with our mentally challenged citizens."

The biggest challenge to Region IV is funding, said Spearman. His agency receives a yearly allocation from DeSoto County in the $200,000 range. Supervisors, contending with flat revenues since the recession, say they wish it could be more.

"Last year was the hardest we ever had" in terms of finances, with changes in Medicaid reimbursement among the hurdles, said Spearman.

Region IV also serves Alcorn, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishomingo counties, with a combined population less than DeSoto County.

With a system-wide $30 million annual budget, Region IV derives about $4 million in grants, "but a lot of our funding sources are drying up," he said. "The $24 million is to be met with revenues," but last year, about $8 million in expenses was written off due to inability of low-income clients to pay, he said.

But he said he was grateful for the county's ongoing, regular support.

"Without it, we wouldn't be able to do the things we've done," he said.

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

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