WHITFIELD — A legislative watchdog committee is criticizing how the Department of Mental Health handled a contract to shut down its community care unit at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, in a report released Friday, criticized the department’s $45,000 contract with Guided Steps to move 120 patients out of its Community Services Division. The contract was voided during the review after committee investigators found that Guided Steps’ director lied about having required educational degrees.
The committee, though, is raising wider questions about state mental health policy, asking why the department was cutting community care to shift money to the inpatient hospital at a time when Mississippi is under federal pressure to do the reverse. The U.S. Department of Justice threatened to sue Mississippi in 2011 if it didn’t do more to move people out of mental hospitals and into community settings, saying it was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The performance report states Mississippi spends a larger share of its money on mental hospitals and a smaller share on community care than any other state.
“The department has foregone the opportunity to redirect the resources yielded from closure of the division into providing community-based care,” the report said.
Department Executive Director Ed LeGrand wrote in a letter to the review committee that the Whitfield hospital shut down the division because inpatient care is its primary mission, and officials needed “to reduce the cost of their current operations in order to live within their appropriation.”
The committee questioned why the department chose Guided Steps, finding no evidence competitive proposals were sought. The committee also asked why the department didn’t try to work with community mental health centers around Jackson.
The committee said the department allowed Guided Steps to go ahead even though it lacked the required permanent location and staff. The department planned to let Guided Steps use buildings in west Jackson and equipment at no charge.
“The company was set to receive more than the actual value of the contract ($45,000) due to additional benefits or incentives,” the committee wrote. “PEER believes that this type of contract is not good public policy, because it uses taxpayer dollars to fund private enterprise.”
The committee found the Department of Mental Health neglected an adequate transition plan for the 120 patients, saying their needs “did not appear to be the top priority” of officials.
The committee recommended in 2008 that DMH develop a statewide system to track mental health patients, no matter who was caring for them. The department said it would do so, but hasn’t completed the work.
“The department cannot ensure that former Community Services Division clients are receiving adequate services, or any services at all,” the committee wrote.
LeGrand wrote that he was “disappointed that PEER included in the draft report certain editorial comments disparaging (department) staff’s motives and commitment toward the individuals we serve.”