County To Have New Mental Health Provider

DeSoto County Supervisors, concerned about a local mental health care agency’s ability to handle a staggering caseload, will have a new mental health care provider in August – when the county’s contract with current provider Communicare expires.

Board of Supervisors President Bill Russell said the move to sign an agreement with Region IV Mental Health Services is a step in the right direction.

“We don’t want to disparage Communicare,” Russell said. “Communicare did what they could do. These people (Region IV) are a couple of steps beyond.”

Russell the new company will provide a “revolutionary approach” to mental health care for hundreds of DeSoto Countians at the same cost now provided by Communicare, which is approximately $200,000 a year.

“The is a really big deal,” Russell said.

DeSoto County is presently a part of the Region II mental health region as assigned by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. Even though the county is not contiguous to the northeast Mississipi counties of Prentiss, Tippah, Tishomingo and Alcorn, DeSoto and all other 81 counties in Mississippi can direct their resources to the region in which they wish to belong.

Communicare, headquartered in Oxford, has been under contract with DeSoto County to provide mental health evaluations for DeSoto County jail inmates, juvenile offenders, individuals in a court-ordered drug program and those suffering from substance abuse issues for the past 15 years.

Russell said Region IV will be able to help provide badly needed follow-up care for hundreds of individuals who are not adequately having their mental health care needs met.

According to Russell, mental health care for inmates housed at the DeSoto County Jail will be also provided on a more accessible basis and, for the first time, case workers will be placed throughout the school system to help with the mental health care needs of young adolescent offenders.

DeSoto County Administrator Michael Garriga said the decision not to renew Communicare’s contract was not an easy one.

“I think what we’ve discovered is that Region IV provides a very progressive array of services,” Garriga said. “Typically what we have here in DeSoto County is general outpatient therapy. We have gotten so big we have so many specialty needs now.”

Garriga said lack of resources on the part of Communicare didn’t allow proper follow-up care.

“We just felt like DeSoto County’s needs weren’t addressed correctly,” Garriga said. “We’ve toured (Region IV) facilities and looked at the progressive mental health care they provide. We’ve had meetings with their leadership. Their levels of services are more intensive for individuals who don’t have private insurance to meet their health care needs. They (Region IV) try to take a more proactive approach with their case follow-up and making sure that the patients don’t get off their meds so there is not a revolving door with the patients.”

Garriga said the county will assist Region IV in finding a location to house their local clinic.

Even though the contract with Communicare ends in August, Garriga said Region 4 would begin full-time operations in DeSoto County on Oct. 1.

“There will be a transition period,” Garriga said. “We will try to find them a location so they can establish a client base. I think it’s a very positive step for the county.”

The larger issue involves housing and treating mental patients who have no other alternative than to be housed at the DeSoto County Jail.

On Monday, DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco said there were 12 mental patients being housed in a separate wing of the jail.

Rasco is among those leading the effort to find a more suitable alternative for housing of mental patients other than at the overcrowded county jail and acknowledges that the jail is no place for mental patients.

Meanwhile, Communicare officials in Hernando said Monday they had not been made aware of the contract’s termination by their supervisors in Oxford.

Communicare staff, which include seven therapists and four case managers, currently see more than 800 people a month, down from 1,000 a month two months ago.

Many clients are referred elsewhere due to the heavy caseload.

Charlie Spearman, Sr., executive director of Region IV, said his agency looked forward to serving the mental health care needs of DeSoto County, especially those situations involving juveniles.

Region IV has a staff of 280 who serve the four-county region in northeast Mississippi. Spearman said his agency planned to fully staff the Hernando office in addition to operating an acute hospitalization program.

“We’ll also provide mental health care therapists to all the schools and case managers to act as a liaison between schools and parents,” Spearman said. “We’ll also do day treatment programs or two-hour pull-outs aimed at working with children with emotional and behavioral programs as referred principals and teachers.”

Spearman said those programs are aimed at preventing mental problems later in life.

“The sooner you can get to them the better off they’ll be,” Spearman said. “We start seeing children as young as 4.”

Spearman is hopeful the push in the state Legislature for regional crisis centers will be successful so that patients can be referred to those centers if needed.

“We know it will take a little time to get the office up and running,” he said. “We are very excited about the opportunity to serve the needs of the people in DeSoto County.”

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