Crisis Center

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 7, 2010

Firm wants state to allow operation of crisis center

By Billy Davis

The state-operated Batesville Crisis Intervention Center could be in private hands by summer if the facility follows a pilot program already in place.

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health oversees the 16-bed Batesville facility, which opened in 2004 behind Wal-Mart. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The center is one of seven in the state with a mission to provide short-term care. But the crisis centers, among other state services, have become a prime target for budget cuts during ongoing recession. 

To cut costs, Gov. Haley Barbour announced last fall he intended to close six of the seven centers, a threat that led to a new plan: lease the centers to private firms in order to keep them open.

The crisis intervention centers will be leased to new firms by June 30, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health (MDMH) said this week.

Barbour signed legislation in past days to kick off a transfer of the crisis intervention centers.

Panola County supervisors learned Monday that mental health firm Communicare is seeking to operate the Batesville center, when company spokesman Dr. Michael Roberts spoke at the county board meeting.

A crisis center in Grenada is serving as a pilot model for “farming out” the state facilities, with other centers expected to follow the model, he said.

Roberts went on to explain that Communicare is competing with a Corinth firm to operate the Batesville facility. He did not name the firm, which is Timber Hills, at the meeting.

The use of private firms is already in place in Mississippi, since Communicare, Timber Hills and others oversee Community Mental Health Centers in 15 regions in the state.

Communicare, in Region 2, oversees Calhoun, Lafayette, Marshall, Panola, Tate and Yalobusha counties. The firm, headquartered in Oxford, operates an office in Sardis.

Timber Hills acts as Region 4 provider in Alcorn, DeSoto, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishimingo counties. It won oversight of DeSoto County in February, when county supervisors there opted out of Region 2.

After the Monday meeting, Roberts later told The Panolian that Timber Hills is expected to win control of the Batesville center. That decision by state officials would give Timber Hills control of crisis intervention centers in Corinth and in Batesville, he said.

MDMH is “in discussion” with a firm but no formal agreement has been made, said a spokesman for the state agency.

Timber Hills is in the process of “making the transition,” with meetings planned in the near future with state officials, said Charlie Spearman Sr., executive director at Timber Hills.

MDMH is referring to the leasing of centers as a “redesign” project, prompted by the governor’s recommendations for closure.

The redesign at the Grenada clinic began in September 2009, when Region 6 firm Life Help was put in charge of the facility.

A total of 164 people have been admitted in Grenada, staying an average 11 days, according to a state report.

“The ability to accommodate both voluntary and involuntary admissions on a 24/7 basis has resulted in a 90-percent diversion rate from costly inpatient hospital care,” the report states, “and has markedly increased the provision of timely mental health care within the community.”

The pilot program at the Grenada facility also means patients are not housed in jail while awaiting transfer to a state facility, according to the state report.  

Roberts said he is meeting with Department of Mental Health officials May 20 to lobby for Communicare to win oversight of the Batesville center.

“I was told Batesville would be designated to the Corinth firm because they are operating in DeSoto County,” Roberts said. “I don’t consider that a satisfactory answer.”

“What we’re afraid will happen is that you will see patients from DeSoto County at the Batesville center, which was built for Panola and its adjoining counties,” Roberts added.

According to Spearman, DeSoto County’s population, participation in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), and the operation of four acute hospitals in Region 4, are among the reasons MDMH selected Timber Hills to oversee the Batesville center.

A working relationship with locals courts and law enforcement, experience in providing acute care, participation in PERS, and progressive treatment options are listed as other criteria in the state report. 

Communicare does not participate in PERS, Spearman said.

Roberts pointed out that criteria for winning oversight of a crisis intervention center include the location of the firm.

Timber Hills, in Alcorn County, is approximately 120 miles from the Batesville Crisis Intervention Center.