Harrison County

Mental-health care could be changing in Harrison County

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport announced to employees this week it is studying the possibility of selling Memorial Behavioral Health just north of Interstate 10 on U.S. 49.
Memorial Hospital at Gulfport announced to employees this week it is studying the possibility of selling Memorial Behavioral Health just north of Interstate 10 on U.S. 49. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport announced to employees this week it will conduct a feasibility study that could lead to the sale of Memorial Behavioral Health and its psychiatric hospital.

The study will start in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Janet Stuart, the hospital’s manager of marketing and communications, said an outside consultant will conduct the study, which “may lead to a sale.”

Stuart said the 100 workers at Behavioral Health were told Tuesday “we’re possibly looking for a new owner.”

We have two priorities: Make sure those services stay in the community and preserve all those jobs.

Gary G. Marchand, Memorial president and CEO

When asked if profitability is the issue, Stuart told the Sun Herald, “Medicaid cuts have had an impact on services.”

Medicaid is a significant part of the hospital’s revenue, and payments have been below cost for psychiatric services, the hospital said.

“We’ve had longstanding Medicaid-payment cuts,” Stuart said.

Serving the Coast

Since the late 1990s, Memorial Hospital has operated the main Memorial Behavioral Health campus at the former Sand Hill Mental Health hospital on U.S. 49 just north of Interstate 10.

A patient can be admitted there for inpatient care, see a doctor, attend a day program or receive therapy sessions, but the psychiatric hospital had to give up some of its bed space to offer the other services.

“We have two priorities,” said Gary G. Marchand, Memorial president and CEO, “make sure those services stay in the community and preserve all those jobs.”

The Behavioral Health campus is licensed by the state to offer up to 89 beds for acute psychiatric care and 20 for chemical dependency. It has never used the chemical dependency beds, Marchand said, and it uses only 44 of the other beds, because the space is used for the other services.

Beds are valuable

Psychiatric beds, however, are a limited commodity on the Coast.

If Memorial Hospital, a public hospital, decides selling is its best option, it could sell to a private entity.

If it does that, the new owners might have more say in the type of patients it would see, mental-health officials say.

“The plus would be to continue it as a mental-health facility,” said Sherman Blackwell, director of Singing River Services, a community mental-health service on the Coast, “because the need is ever increasing.”

The feasibility study will let everyone in the community know what the options are for the campus up there, Marchand said.

“The feasibility study is to take a look at that and where we go from here,” Stuart said.

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