Counties could benefit from CCS center

Staff Writer

With more than a dozen services already offered in Clay and the rest of its seven-county service area, Community Counseling Services wants to add another to the list.

And for some segments of the community, it could be the most significant yet.

Fittingly, the news comes during Mental Health Awareness Month.

"We are preparing a grant now for a crisis stabilization unit, a 12-bed facility for short-term treatment to get people's issues under control, to stabilize their conditions rather than having to try to get them into the state hospital," John McLendon, the Clay County administrator for CCS, told county supervisors Monday.

"We're closer than we've ever been. We've been trying to get it for several years and this is about as close as we've come.We're more optimistic than ever before," McLendon added.

The idea, which would be funded by a state Department of Mental Health grant, drew an immediate positive response from Chancery Court Clerk Amy Berry, whose office handles an average of more than a dozen mental commitments a month and often struggles to find treatment beds. The county has a $450 a day contract with Alliance Corp., for services at its facility in Meridian and $400 with Baptist Behavioral Health for its center in Columbus.

"This would be a great opportunity for our county, a big help to us. It would be a big help to every county that CCS serves. We aren't the only county that struggles with crisis mental health services and expenses," Berry said.

The agency would contract with hospitals and similar facilities in the seven-county service area to provide the emergency services.

CCS has not determined a location for the facility, but McLendon said one possibility is the Cart House, a county-owned building constructed with state mental health funds years ago and used by CCS.

The facility currently is used for after-school counseling for middle- and high-school students who are in crisis. If the Cart House, which is located near Marshall Park, becomes the stabilization center, the teen program likely would move to a CCS building on Court Street adjacent to the courthouse.

"We are more optimistic. People are beginning to see and understand the growing demand for this type of service. People are starting to see the problem isn't getting any less, it's just getting more and more," he said.

Overall, CCS provided services to 5,826 people in its seven counties last year. Of those, 542 were Clay County residents, according to numbers CCS Clay County Commissioner Kay Simmons provided supervisors.

Of the agency's $23,794,669 budget last year, $1,984,698 was in Clay County. The agency has 40 full-time employees in the county with a payroll of more than $704,000.

And CCS provided $171,740 in non-reimbursable services last year to people who were in crisis or were indigent.

"Our first goal is to help people, to get people the help they need. We do what we need to do when people need service," Simmons told supervisors.

Of the agency's funding, 73 percent comes from Medicaid. The next biggest funding block is 8 percent from federal grants.

No direct state money is allocated to CCS.

The agency's many services include mobile crisis response team that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Pines and Cady Hill alcohol and drug treatment facilities in Columbus, the Golden Triangle Autism Center in West Point, plus numerous counseling, treatment and certification programs and services.

One area that is getting particular focus is mental health first aid, particularly among groups like educators who are seeing mental health issues impact schools in many ways, including violence.

CCS is offering a mental health first aid seminar for teachers this summer as part of the program.

The agency also is expanding its peer support programs that allows people who have benefited from Community Counseling programs to give back through counseling others.