The Department of Justice made the state of Mississippi aware of critical issues with its services for individuals with mental illnesses in 2011. Nearly a decade later, Mississippi still struggles to meet the mark.
The Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice reported that Mississippi was failing to meet obligations detailed in the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the 35-page letter addressed to then-Gov. Haley Barbour, the DOJ picked apart Mississippi’s system of supporting people with mental illnesses.
The letter pointed to newly constructed institutional care buildings that belong in the 20th century, a lack of community-based programs and a failure to provide integrated community settings to qualifying institutionalized individuals. On Dec. 22, it will be 10 years since Mississippi was made aware of these issues — and the state is still struggling to correct them.
After five years of negotiation between the DOJ and the state of Mississippi, Mississippi was sued by the DOJ in 2016. The department claimed that the state had violated federal law for the same reasons detailed in their 2011 letter. In 2019, Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in favor of the DOJ, finding that Mississippi was indeed in violation of the ADA.
In September of this year, Reeves issued a remedial order that, among other things, gave the state of Mississippi 120 days to draft an implementation plan and until March 6 to submit a final plan. However, the office of Attorney General Lynn Fitch, represented by Phelps Dunbar LLC, filed a motion requesting that Reeves stay parts of his order — including the part ordering Mississippi to develop the implementation plan — until the order was appealed.
“As Mississippi undertakes careful and thorough efforts to perform its obligations under the order, it is appropriate to partially stay a few parts of the order…that require immediate action, substantial new funding and a fundamental altering of Mississippi’s mental health system,” reads the request.
Many worry that both the request and the appeal could result in significant delays to Mississippi taking strides to correct the failures in the state’s mental health system that have been identified.
However, Mississippi Department of Mental Health Executive Director Wendy Bailey plans to comply with Judge Carlton’s order anyway.
“I feel we are on track to make great progress even over the next 24 months in this area,” Bailey said. “We will comply with the judge’s order and do everything that we need to do as a state agency.”
Though Mississippi is poised to take over a decade to formally take steps to resolve the issues pointed out by the DOJ in 2011, the state has taken steps to improve community-based mental health resources.
For adults, the state offers behavioral health programs at five state hospitals throughout Mississippi.
“The programs provide inpatient services for adults with serious mental illness and substance abuse,” according to the Department of Mental Health website.
In the way of community-oriented services, which are available based on your ZIP code, the Department of Mental Health offers over a dozen, including community support services, supervised living, drop-in centers, emergency crisis services and crisis stabilization services.
State Mental Health Services Available in Lafayette County
Residents of Lafayette County seeking adult mental health services will be directed to choose from six different options. The first and only option in the county is the Lafayette County Detention Center, which, as Jail Administrator Johnny McDonald shared, serves as a central location for adults in need of mental health services with nowhere else to go.
“If you’re having a mental health crisis, your family can go to the chancery court and get what they call a mental health writ on you,” he said. “Then they’ll bring you here (the detention center). Communicare will see you, you’ll see a series of mental health doctors and then you’ll be appointed an attorney, who will talk with them about their rights and what happens next.”
Communicare is the community mental health center that serves Lafayette County as well as other counties in northern Mississippi. Communicare also provides mental health services to LCDC inmates.
How long individuals who have experienced or are experiencing a mental health crisis remain in the Lafayette County Detention Center depends on a number of things, such as bed space at state facilities. When it is determined that the individual does need inpatient treatment, they will be moved to a regional crisis stabilization center, the closest being in Batesville, Grenada and Tupelo.
Outside of the LCDS and Communicare, the Department of Mental Health lists no other resources for adults in need of mental health services in the county. The remaining options include Mississippi Behavioral Health Services in Batesville, Heavenly Angels Supervised Living Home in West Point and Marion Counseling in Jackson.
There are more options available for children and youth, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, those in need of substance abuse treatment services and rehabilitative services.
Right now, it is uncertain where Mississippi’s mental health saga will go next — if Bailey does comply with Carlton’s order despite the appeal, we should see a draft of Mississippi’s implementation plan as early as Jan. 5, 2022.