| By Billy Davis
The Panola County Board of Supervisors continued its discussion of lunacy cases Monday, this time hearing from a chancery special master as well as the director of the local crisis intervention center.
Batesville attorney Adam Pittman, who hears the lunacy cases, told supervisors he was grateful that the county was discussing the dilemma of finding housing for patients.
"I’m glad you are discussing this issue because it’s become an issue after the sale of the hospital," Pittman said, referring to Tri-Lakes Medical Center.
Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock broached the subject last week, addressing concerns over an increase in lunacy cases flowing through the court system and court filings and other paperwork that often is paid for by taxpayers.
Lunacy court appearances are averaging two a week, Pittman and Pitcock agreed at the "second Monday" meeting.
"The vast majority of the people…need help," Pittman said. "It’s not like we’re sending these people to the doctor and the doctor says they’re fine."
The chancery clerk’s office is the starting point for mental commitment cases in Panola County. After papers are filed on a person, often by a family member, the process begins with a mental evaluation by a doctor followed by a chancery court hearing.
If the special master rules that treatment is needed, then the patient is "committed," meaning he or she is ordered to enter a state mental facility.
At the Monday meeting, Pittman said the county often holds patients for three to four days until they’re evaluated and appear in court.
A jail cell is not the "proper place" to house a patient prior to a court appearance, Pittman said, agreeing with Pitcock, however, that committed patients who are in jail are often received quickly by a facility.
A mentally ill patient’s $25,000 bill from Tri-Lakes jumpstarted the lunacy discussion last week when Pitcock reported receiving the bill.
The $25,000 bill sent to the county "won’t happen again," Pittman said.
"I can commit somebody to a private facility but I only do that if the bill is taken care of," Pittman said. "There was a misunderstanding where we understood that was taken care of."
Regarding the topic of court expenses, Pittman said the patient, not the family, is responsible for paying for court costs and other fees.
Ellen Waits, director of the Robert F. Maddux Crisis Intervention Center, appeared Monday after supervisors wondered aloud last week why the center’s presence doesn’t seem to help the housing situation.
Waits told supervisors the Batesville center is an eight-bed facility that serves female patients from an 18-county area.
Future patients are added to a main waiting list located at the Tupelo location, Waits said.
"When a bed opens, we call and get the next person on the list," Waits said, adding that a patient’s average length of stay is 28 days.
"Do you have any Panola County patients?" asked Supervisor Robert Avant.
"No patients are there right now from Panola County," Waits replied. "We had three patients from here about three months ago."
Waits said the facility is expected to double in bed capacity by July and could provide a walk-up service in about two years.
Supervisors did take action on the topic at their "second Monday" meeting, voting to allow Pitcock to contact Tri-Lakes about the cost of housing patients and report back to the board.