The Union County Board of Supervisors Monday met with Charlie D. Spearman, executive director of Region IV Mental Health Services, and John Baker, who is over the crisis stabilization unit in Tupelo, in a continuing effort to determine how the county can deal with mentally ill residents.
After struggling with the problem for years, the county representatives were able to join a much-improved program a few years ago that has drawn nothing but praise in handling mentally ill residents. Now, they may lose that program.
Before three years ago, when a person had commitment papers filed because he or she was deemed a threat to himself, herself or others due to mental illness, officers usually took that person into custody and placed him or her in the Union County Jail.
Officers next took the person to the Region III facility in Tupelo for an evaluation, returned the patient to the jail until taking him or her to a chancery court hearing. If the commitment was adjudged necessary, the patient would be returned to the jail until a bed opened up at the state hospital in Tupelo.
Patients were kept in the jail that was not equipped or designed for mental patients, the staff did not have the proper training and appropriate medical support was not on hand. The county was responsible for the patient’s welfare, medical needs and transportation, and bore the resulting liability. A patient could sometimes be kept in the jail for several weeks.
Then, three years ago, the county contracted with Region IV Mental Health Services, which has a crisis stabilization unit just up the road from the state hospital in Tupelo as well as crisis centers in Batesville and Corinth. Under the agreement, when commitment papers are filed, all deputies have to do is pick up the patient and take him or her directly to Tupelo. That was the end of interaction with and liability for the patient.
Once at the Region IV facility, the patient was evaluated there, was provided with an attorney there, had a hearing over the Internet via Skype and was cared for there until a bed could be found at the state hospital.
For all this, the county paid Region IV $44,000 per year.
Recently, however, Spearman told officials that the facility had been losing money and unless the counties working with them doubled their payment, and more counties agreed to use Region IV, he would be forced to close the facility down.
While supervisors and Chancery Clerk Annette Hickey (who has the most direct dealing with the commitment process) say they are very happy with the Region IV system, they don’t know if they can afford to pay twice as much.
Spearman argued that even with doubling the cost, it still will be financially better for the county to work with Region IV than try to get the Union County Jail certified to house mental patients. “You would have to build a specially constructed area for the patients, two deputies would have to be specially trained, you would have to have a psychiatrist as well as a doctor full-time and a procedures manual that would have to be updated constantly,” he said. “You’re still saving money.”
When asked if Region IV could handle the patients from 12 and more counties, Spearman said that the Tupelo facility can house 16 patients at a time and, with Batesville and Corinth having 16 each in addition to the state hospital, that is a total of 98 beds. He said that should be enough to meet area needs, even if it required moving some patients around. He assured supervisors he could handle Union County requests. “I have never told Annette we didn’t have a bed for her,” Baker said.
Union County is actually in Region III’s area, which includes Benton, Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe and Pontotoc counties, but Region III has no holding facility. Region III also does not offer the detox program that Region IV does. Region IV includes Alcorn, DeSoto, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishomingo counties.
“Region IV isn’t broke,” Spearman said. “But we don’t get all those grants.” He added they get no state support otherwise and told supervisors his monthly payroll is $1.2 million and the annual budget about $30 million. “We have been losing $75,000 a month for three years,” he said. He can afford to lose $200,000 a year, but not $400,000, he said.
While Spearman is asking for double the payment as of September, he is willing to keep the facility open until then if the counties will pay 150 percent of the old fee, he said. But keeping the facility open is still somewhat contingent on participation by at least a dozen area counties.
Spearman and Baker said their recidivism rate is very low. “We treat everybody like a sister or brother,” he said. “We are the EMTs of mental health.”
“I wish we had asked for more three years ago when the other counties did not get in,” Spearman said.
He was asked whether Union County’s agreeing to continue participation would be sufficient to keep the facility open and same services.
“If some counties do and some don’t, I will have to close it,” he said.
Hickey said she is looking for possible alternatives such as contracting with Tri-Lakes Hospital in Batesville, which is certified for mental patients, trying to work with counties that have certified jails or something else. Supervisors are looking for legislative support but board president Danny Jordan said that even if some counties got together and formed a consortium to build a mental health facility, the cost would still be too high. They also will learn more specific information about what it would take to get the jail here certified.
Jordan said he doesn’t see how we can afford doubling the payment but also, right now, sees little choice unless some other plan can be found.
In other business, supervisors:
- Approved paying the two county bailiffs, P. J. Doyle and David Garrison, their fees for the month.
- Approved paying the chancery clerk for the June court term.
- Approved issuing a manual check in the amount of $16 to the sheriff’s department to pay for a vehicle tag.
- Received a budget request from the Union County Literacy Council for $1,500. This is the time of year department and agencies submit their budget requests to the county board.
- Approved travel, lodging and expenses for Tax Assessor-Collector Randy Dunnam to attend the state convention in Jackson July 12-24.
- Approved a 10-year ad valorem tax exemption for Jackson Furniture in Myrtle. Several other industries had similar exemptions granted in the past month but Jackson was delayed because some of their figures were not the same as the tax assessor’s.
- Approved a preventive maintenance agreement with Tri-Star for the chiller in the courthouse air-conditioning system.
- Approved a minority-women business enterprises policy for the county’s Development Infrastructure Project grant, approved payment on the grant to Precision Engineering and approved transferring $15,325 from the general fund to the DIP grant fund. The grant will help pay for a new access road to Newport Furniture from Industrial Drive, off North Glenfield. The grant will provide $270,000 and the Appalachian Regional Commission will give $220,000. The city and county will split a matching cost of $30,650.
- Approved paying $24,190 to Precision Engineering for the FY2015 annual county bridge inspection. This included 59 bridges in the county and engineer Hubert Foley said the cost would be paid with all federal money.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the board of supervisors will be at 10 a.m. Monday, July 7.