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State mental health department wants to become more proactive and community based

New strategic plan for DMH

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health’s (DMH’s) greatest challenge is also a big part of a new strategic plan for the agency.

The transformation to more proactive, community-based service will hopefully move the DMH away from being so dependent on hospitals, said DMH director Edwin LeGrand.

The details of how to execute that concept will be just one part of an overall strategic plan a subcommittee of the state Board of Mental Health has spent the past year crafting.

The plan will spell out specific objectives for the next three to five years and more broadly based goals for the next decade.

LeGrand hopes board members can vote on a final draft some time in June.

“It’s a document that will never be final,” LeGrand said. “It will be a living document that will continue to evolve. It’s going to be comprehensive and will be intended to describe the process of what public mental healthcare services will look like over the next 10 years.”

A focus on preventive care will occupy a large part of the plan’s vision. Improving access to care for people who need treatment will substantially reduce their chances of reaching commitment criteria, when they have to be institutionalized. A lot of patients, LeGrand said, start out with a minor mental health issue that goes untreated and snowballs into an issue that requires commitment to one of the DMH’s 15 community facilities. A person needing minor treatment turning into one who is a danger to him and/or to others “doesn’t happen overnight,” LeGrand said.

“We’re moving from brick-and-mortar environment to a focus on prevention. We need to be able to access professional mental health treatment before you become so acutely ill that in-patient care is the only thing that is going to be of any help.”

For that to become reality, LeGrand said the DMH, as part of the overall strategic plan, will have to establish good working relationships with the community centers, which are under the purview of individual county governments, private hospitals and non-profit foundations.

Like every other state agency, the DMH has had its fiscal year 2009 budget cut twice due to sharp declines in state tax revenue. LeGrand said early-intervention programs administered by the South Mississippi Regional Center in Long Beach and wholly supported by general fund money have been phased out since budget cuts were made several months ago. The department has cut nonessential services and delayed repairs and scheduled maintenance to its facilities.

“We have plans in place at almost every location to deal with a significant reduction in general fund appropriations in the upcoming year, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that the governor is not faced with another cut in general funds in the current year,” LeGrand said.

To help withstand the financial body blows, the Legislature passed and Gov. Haley Barbour signed House Bill 681, which allows state agencies to transfer money from one budget category to another. For example, the DMH technically has 16 budget categories — one for the state office in Jackson and 15 for the community centers. Under the old law, money allocated for one community center could not be transferred to prop up another.

The new law prevented layoffs at two of the DMH’s facilities in Newton and Brookhaven, LeGrand said.

“Every agency has known that the recession was coming,” LeGrand said. “We just didn’t know how bad it was going to be.”

With the recessionary economy zapping jobs at a rate that most experts think will eventually push the national unemployment rate to 10 percent, laid off workers are turning to government employment. That is good and bad news, LeGrand said.

“When the State of Mississippi’s economy is real bad, state government gets incredibly good applicants,” he said. “Unfortunately, at most of our locations we just don’t have the ability to hire them. Even in the professional areas that we have to have, like nursing and psychology, the quality of our applicants is going up.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com .


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