TUPELO • Diana Mikula, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health will retire from the agency effective Jan. 31 2021, according to an agency spokesperson.
This move will trigger a top leadership change amid ongoing scrutiny of how Mississippi provides mental health services, and a new director will take the helm amid a federal court order to institute reforms.
Mikula announced her retirement to the state board of mental health on Thursday at its regular meeting. She has been the director of the state agency since 2014, and she has worked for the department for more than 25 years.
“I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to surround myself with the most compassionate, competent and caring staff who are focused on one united mission to improve the lives of Mississippians, one person at a time,” Mikula said in a statement.
Mikula served as director of the agency when the U.S. Department of Justice successfully argued that Mississippi was in violation of the American Disabilities Act for not providing adequate mental health care to Mississippians at the community level.
Subsequently, a federal judge last year ruled that Mississippians with mental illness were largely being denied their civil rights, since most were being segregated into state-run hospitals.
Wendy Bailey, the deputy director for administrative services, has been tapped by the state mental health board to replace Mikula when she retires. Bailey has worked at the agency for 15 years and has previously served as chief of staff and director of the department’s bureau of outreach and planning.
Bailey has also served on numerous task forces and advisory boards and is a licensed mental health administrator.
“My primary vision for the agency is to improve the access to an evidence-based continuum of care for people with mental illness, substance use addiction and intellectual and developmental disabilities,” she said. “Every person has a voice and a story, and every person should be able to access and participate in the care that will improve their lives.”
State Sen. Hob Bryan, a Democratic lawmaker from Amory, told the Daily Journal that he took notice that the mental health board hired someone for the position on the same day that it announced the retirement of the outgoing director. This, he suggested, could give the impression that a decision about a new director had “already been made” before the announcement was public.
Bryan, the chairman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said he’s sure that the board has a sufficient reason for choosing a new director in this manner, and he is interested in learning the reason.
The public health and welfare committee is expected to conduct a hearing on Monday afternoon, and Bryan said a representative from the state mental health department is expected to attend.
Bailey will soon step into a role to lead an agency that faces ongoing scrutiny from federal and state officials seeking to improve mental health services in the state.
In February, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves appointed Dr. Michael Hogan as a special master to help implement mental health reforms and bring the state into compliance with the ADA. In October, the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration appointed William Rosamond as the coordinator of mental health accessibility to also perform an analysis of mental health services in the state and implement needed solutions.
The state agency has said in previous statements that it has made strides in community-based services and looks forward to Rosamond’s assessment of the state’s mental health system.