CCS responds to landmark mental health ruling

Community Counseling Services' administrative office in West Point (DTL FIle Photo)
By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
DTL Editor

Representatives from West Point-based Community Counseling Services [CCS] responded Wednesday following a major decision by a federal judge to intervene in Mississippi’s mental health system.

The news comes as a positive step forward for CCS administrators, who hope an energized push to emphasize community-based mental health services will result in increased support at the state level.
Community Counseling Services — headquartered in West Point on the former Mary Holmes College campus — is among the regional leaders in regards to community-based services, with offices in Choctaw, Clay, Noxubee, Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Webster and Winston counties.

Community Counseling Services CPO Karen Frye said on Thursday that having read the entire decision handed down by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves on Wednesday, the organization is encouraged that the prima facie case against the state of Mississippi has finally been addressed.

The judge ruled on Wednesday that federal attorneys proved the state of Mississippi is not doing enough to serve people with mental illnesses outside of state institutions. Judge Reeves is now expected to appoint an independent expert to oversee future changes to a system that “unlawfully discriminates against persons with serious mental illness.”

“While acknowledging the shortcomings of the [Mississippi] Department of Mental Health, but also stating the fact that the department has made notable strides in moving towards a more community-based continuum of care, it is our hope that this ruling will force the state of Mississippi to move forward at a much faster pace into a new system that destigmatizes individuals with mental illnesses and develops a system of true community-based treatment versus continued reliance on confined, institutional care,” Frye said.

Community Counseling Services CFO Richard Duggin echoed Frye’s enthusiasm for the potential of the ruling, saying CCS was excited for the individuals who have suffered for years in a “laborious state mental health system” to finally be able to see the light of day in their own communities, while receiving appropriate community supports.

“While there will always be the need to house the ‘sickest of the sick’ and the forensic individuals — those who commit horrendous crimes — the mass majority can be treated in their communities,” Duggin said. “However, that takes money. We have lamented and preached for years that in order to treat individuals in the community, we need money to do it.”

Duggin continued, saying community mental health centers like CCS get nothing as it relates state budget dollars.

And in a state like Mississippi, the need is apparent in the numbers, with an estimated 165,000 Mississippians in need some kind of mental health services, including nearly 35,000 children and youth who have severe and persistent mental health needs, according to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

For community mental health centers or organizations, each center operates under a board of commissioners, appointed by the county’s board of supervisors, which receives funding through millage set in each county.

“There is no line item in the budget for us,” he said. “We get grants from DMH, a small millage percentage based on the tax rate of 1984, we can bill private insurance and we can bill Medicaid, which lately has been a source of contention, as we fight every day to get people the services they need, but are at the mercy of the MCOs [Managed Care Organizations].”

According to Medicaid.gov, MCOs operate as a health care delivery system organized to “manage cost, utilization, and quality.”

Duggin said it has been posited that it would put too many people out of work if state hospitals are closed down or if their budgets are slashed. “If the care is moved to the communities, the community mental health centers will need trained staff to treat these same individuals,” Duggin pointed out. “So little or few jobs will be lost.

“For this to happen however, the legislature must allocate and shift state dollars to support needed and/or expanded community based services,” Duggin added.

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