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Group’s 2010 report warned on Mississippi mental health care

Nine years before Mississippi’s mental health system faced a trial over a federal lawsuit, a psychiatric association warned that the state’s inadequate community mental health services were a “disaster in the making.”

The Enterprise-Journal reports Mississippi Psychiatric Association Executive Director Angela Ladner testified about the organization’s 2010 report Thursday in the federal government’s lawsuit against the state. The suit alleges Mississippi isn’t complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act because it keeps too many patients in state hospitals and doesn’t provide enough community care.

The state denies breaking the law, saying the federal government is overstepping by demanding extensive and costly changes. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves is hearing the suit without a jury. The trial is expected to last into July and a ruling is unlikely before year’s end.

The psychiatric association’s 2010 report came after a joint task with lawmakers. It criticized the Mississippi Department of Mental Health for not recognizing the serious ramifications of noncompliance with federal disability laws requiring psychiatric treatment in the “least restrictive setting.” The report also criticized the department for failing to enforce minimal standards on Mississippi’s community mental health centers.

Ladner testified about the association’s effort to lobby the department for crisis stabilization units of 16 beds or less throughout the state and for crisis intervention teams with law enforcement. The teams train law enforcers in de-escalation techniques aimed at keeping mentally ill people out of jail.

“There was a concern that so many mentally ill people in crisis were being held in jail, not because of a crime but because they were in crisis,” Ladner testified.

Reuben Anderson, an attorney defending the state, questioned Ladner about the affordability of these community programs, pointing out the association’s own report stated that “No mental health system can provide services for everyone with every type of need.”

Ladner testified that her association believed at the time of the report that the state should close a smaller facility and redirect savings to community care through the local mental health centers.

“The idea is that if you shut something down then that would free up resources for community-based services,” she testified.

Under Anderson’s cross examination, Ladner admitted Mississippi had made progress but she said the association believes there is still much more to be done to transition to community-based services.

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