Mental Health Mississippi

Patrick Holkins, a trial attorney at U.S. Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division, right, and a unidentified member of the government's legal team, exit the federal courthouse in Jackson, Miss., after closing arguments were presented on whether Mississippi's mental health system breaks the law by unnecessarily confining people. The U.S. Justice Department urged a judge to order changes saying Mississippi's move toward providing community services is far too slow, forcing people into hospital stays that could be avoided. While attorneys for the state argue Mississippi is progressing on its own.

TUPELO • Several leaders of disability advocacy groups recently sent a letter to a state agency requesting that the newly appointed coordinator of mental health accessibility include them in conversations on how to improve access to mental health services in Mississippi.

On Oct. 28, the executive directors of the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities; Disability Rights Mississippi; Families as Allies; and Life of Mississippi wrote a joint letter to Liz Welch, director of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, outlining different ways advocacy groups could be beneficial to improving mental health in the state.

“Each and every day, we work with people whose lives bear witness to the fact that Mississippi does indeed discriminate against people with mental illness and, as a result, unlawfully segregates them in institutional settings, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the letter reads.

The group wrote that they have extensive knowledge about community mental health practices in other states, models of mental health authorities and relevant documents and information to help assist the state in making improvements.

Last month, Welch appointed William Rosamond, an attorney to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, as the coordinator of mental health accessibility, a new position in state government created during this past legislative session to evaluate the status of mental health systems in the state and make alterations to certain mental health agencies and programs.

The letter expresses concern over Rosamond’s hiring, saying that when he provided legal counsel to the state department of mental health, the system “faced and lost litigation,” which caused a federal judge to rule that Mississippi’s mental health services were inadequate.

But Joy Hogge, the director Families as Allies, told the Daily Journal in an interview that even though there are some reservations about Rosamond’s ability to be a objective and impartial in his analyses, she hopes that he can help facilitate a remedy to the state’s broken mental health system and work with advocacy groups.

“We need to be honest about these issues and the problems we have at the system level,” Hogge said.

Hogge said there are already “mountains of information” concerning the problems with the state’s mental health system. She said she hopes Rosamond will look at the system as a whole instead of just addressing different pieces and aspects of it.

When asked about the letter, Rosamond said that he is “very interested” in working with the different advocacy groups in the state and has already met with one of the signers of the letter to gather thoughts about how to move forward.

“They’re advocates and represent the consumer,” Rosamond said. “We have to find out if there’s a breakdown in services. They’re a key part of the solution.”

Rosamond said he hopes to schedule events to include leaders of advocacy groups to speak openly and honestly about the issues facing the state’s mental health system and possible solutions to it.

Email: taylor.vance@journalinc.com

Twitter: @TaylorVanceDJ

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