Harrison County

State steps in to keep mental health services available on the Mississippi Coast

Sun Herald reporter’s work shows flaws in state’s mental health care system

Sun Herald reporter Robin Fitzgerald talks about two stories she covered in 2018 that show some of the problems in state's mental health care system. Twice people who were seeking help were not properly cared for, both were shot by police, one died.
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Sun Herald reporter Robin Fitzgerald talks about two stories she covered in 2018 that show some of the problems in state's mental health care system. Twice people who were seeking help were not properly cared for, both were shot by police, one died.

The state Department of Mental Health said late Thursday it will step in to provide “limited financial resources” to continue community mental health services that thousands of Coast residents might have lost.

Board members with the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center recently informed boards of supervisors in Harrison, Hancock, Pearl River and Stone counties that it would be unable to fund services after August 11 because it was out of money.

Late Thursday, the state Department of Mental Health said it has contacted local officials “to discuss possible outcomes that would allow residents in these coastal counties to continue” receiving services. The state Board of Mental Health, in fact, voted to allow its staff to negotiate an agreement that will continue some mental health services.

GCMHC works closely with the state Department of Mental Health.

Gulf Coast Mental Health is far more than a counseling center. The grant-funded agency provides:

Inpatient crisis stabilization for people involuntarily committed by the courts to mental institutions.

Substance abuse treatment.

Case management for residents living in their communities with psychiatric disorders.

An array of services for children with adjustment, behavioral and learning problems.

Work activity centers for the developmentally delayed.

Day programs for the chronically mentally ill and more.

At one time, the agency had around 200 employees. Clinicians handled adult caseloads of up to 300, a former employee said.

It is unclear how many people work there now, but the staff has shrunk. The former director, Shelley Foreman, resigned in April after more than two years on the job. She has previously served as the agency’s director of children’s services.

Gulf Coast Mental Health also accepts Medicare and Medicaid, which is often not the case with private providers.

These changes come at a time when the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state for failing to provide adequate community mental health services.

The Sun Herald will update this story as more information becomes available.

(Clarification and correction: Shelley Foreman resigned her position as director of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center. An earlier version of this story misstated the circumstances of her departure.)

Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.
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