By Tommy Reynolds
On Tuesday, I began my 34th Legislative session, and I thank you again for giving me the privilege to serve our communities in House District 33. Over the years, I’ve seen many issues come and go, and some are still with us.
Our need for mental health services reform has continued to linger, but this year the need for change is urgent. Ignoring the issue is no longer an option.
Across the nation, from all parties and regions there is increasing awareness that the health and safety of all our citizens – even little children – depend on adequate and available mental health services.
Three decades ago, individuals suffering from mental illness were jailed in the county jails until they could be admitted to an institution or a hospital. Chancery clerks were often the individuals who called the sheriff to help despairing families find shelter for their ill loved ones.
I supported the construction and financing of crisis centers to hold and treat mentally ill persons who are in need of mental health treatment and for whom beds in the state mental hospitals were not available.
Today, though mentally ill Mississippians are still often housed in jail cells while they await transfer to facilities, at least we are making an attempt to cut back on this unfortunate situation. Adequate funding of mental health is a way to lessen housing of mentally ill in jails which are not equipped to deal with their mental health needs or give them the treatment they need so they will no longer be a danger to themselves or to others.
Beginning in 2008, the State Department of Mental Health became a target of budget cuts. In all, mental health services have been cut by over $38 million during the past five years. In 2010, Gov. Haley Barbour even recommended closing local mental health facilities.
In order to stay afloat, the MDH cut 850 jobs, removed 500 adult psychiatric beds, shuttered some intervention programs for children, did away with nursing home beds for 36 elderly patients, closed an adolescent care center and ceased day care for 650 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In all, over 15,000 individuals have been adversely impacted by budgetary raids on the department.
This year, Gov. Phil Bryant recommends a $3.4 million cut to the Department’s budget, while the Legislative Budget Office proposes to cut the budget by almost $6 million. I will not support these measures to cut mental health services further, and I believe these proposals need to be reconsidered. The last thing we should do is cut mental health funding for our crisis centers and state facilities. To their credit, MDH has struggled to implement a strategic plan to expand community-based services despite the drastic reduction in funds. They deserve our help.
The drain of untreated mental illness on our communities and families is enormous and must be considered potentially threatening to the safety of our citizens. We cannot continue to ignore these needs.
If I can be of any assistance to you please call on me. My phone number in Jackson during the session is (601) 359-9343. The phone number in my Charleston office is (662) 647-3203. I can also be contacted by writing to me at my office address of P. O. Drawer 280, Charleston, MS 38921.