Reaching out to help mentally ill

Timber Hills Mental Health agency serves Alcorn, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishomingo counties

By Jane Clark Summers

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH - Charlie Spearman, director of Timber Hills Mental Health Services, admits he is a dreamer. But it took more than daydreaming to propel the regional mental health program from a $450,000 budget when he took over as director almost four years ago to a $3.2 million budget this year.

The state Legislature divided the state into 15 mental health regions in 1972. Timber Hills Mental Health Services is Region IV and serves Alcorn, Prentiss, Tippah and Tishomingo counties.

While it may be the smallest region in the state, Region IV is not the smallest in budget, services and personnel, said Dr. Randy Hendrix, director of the state Department of Mental Health.

For the past three years, it has been the fastest developing of all the mental health regions in the state, Hendrix said. "He has developed a whole continuum of care in the community and schools and continues to look for opportunities to expand programs."

Spearman is well respected by the central office staff and other regional directors as well as legislators and supervisors from the area he serves, Hendrix said. "We are proud of him and his community and the local officials for their support of quality programs for the mentally ill and mentally retarded."

Variety of services offered

To its more than 3,500 clients, Timber Hills offers a wide variety of therapeutic services, case management services, nursing services, physician services and a psychosocial rehabilitation program for seriously mentally ill adults in four fully staffed offices in Corinth, Booneville, Ripley and Iuka. Sheltered workshop programs for the mentally handicapped are available in Prentiss and Tippah Counties.

Spearman, who has been director of the THMHS since February 1997, said his agency has grown by leaps in bounds. "We are having growing pains," he said.

The staff numbered in the 30s four years ago. The current staff of more than 80 is expected to be in excess of 100 as new programs are added in the next year, he said.

Last year the agency, which had one part-time psychiatrist, hired a full-time psychiatrist and a second psychiatrist will come on board in March. "We envision that the vast majority of his time will be spent in serving children in the schools," Spearman said.

Facilities, services

Last year, THMHS purchased a facility at 303 N. Madison St. for $200,000 to house the administrative offices. An architect estimated the replacement value of the building at between $800,000 and $1 million, Spearman said. "I told my commissioners that long after I am gone and the commissioners are gone, Timber Hills will be proud of this building."

Spearman said he wants the community to share in the use of the facility's conference room, which has already hosted a statewide mental health meeting.

Due to rapid growth of staff and programs, mental health offices in Ripley were expanded last year and renovations are under way at the Booneville office.

The Timber Hills staff also serves eight separate school districts in the four-county area, Spearman said.

"We provide master level therapists, bachelor level case managers, registered nurses and day treatment specialists," he said. The individuals, who are assigned full time to the school districts, are provided at no cost to the schools.

In addition, Timber Hills has a contract with the Mississippi Action for Progress programs to provide therapeutic and case management services to all the 13 Head Start programs operating in the region's four counties as well as in Itawamba County.

"We believe that working with children at this early age can help resolve issues prior to their entering kindergarten," Spearman said.

Treatment programs

An alcohol and drug rehabilitation center is under construction on a three-acre tract of land donated by the Magnolia Regional Health Center's foundation board. Total cost of this project is $1.5 million.

Upon completion, this center will provide 16 primary and eight secondary beds for males and eight primary and four secondary beds for females.

Primary beds are for individuals going through 30-to-90-day treatment programs.

Secondary beds are for individuals who have completed treatment but do not have a place to reside. They can live at the center for six months while Timber Hills staff assists them in finding jobs. They work during the day and attend meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and therapeutic sessions at night and on weekends.

The Alcorn County Board of Supervisors donated a three-acre tract of land on Norman Road for the construction of 19 apartment units for the mentally ill. Timber Hills received a grant for $1,245,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to complete the project.

An on-site supervisor will be available to assist the tenants. Rent will be subsidized by the federal government for qualified applicants.

Another HUD grant in the same amount was awarded to Timber Hills to construct 19 units in Tippah County and applications will be submitted to locate like units in Prentiss and Tishomingo counties, Spearman said.

Within the next couple of months, Timber Hills will begin day-treatment programs for the elderly in each county. The objective of this program is to allow the elderly to maintain independent living, Spearman said.

Knowing that many of the clients in the four-county area have trouble getting to treatment, Timber Hills offers transportation services through a contract with the Community Action Agency. It is the only region in the state that offers transportation.

One of Spearman's newest dreams is a short-term care facility for adolescents who need alcohol and drug rehabilitation. "You have so many kids that need help and there is no where to send them," he said.

Value of services

Chancery Court clerks such as Hayden Ables in Tishomingo County and Larry McCollum in Alcorn County say they know the value of Timber Hills services.

"They provide a much-needed service for the county," McCollum said.

McCollum and Ables said they call on Timber Hills to help out in mental commitment cases.

State law requires prescreening of commitment cases, Ables said. "Timber Hills does a good job at it and they get patients' help."

Spearman credits the rapid growth of services and staff to his board of commissioners and the support of county supervisors, legislators and Hendrix and his staff at the state Department of Mental Health.

"Without Dr. Hendrix's assistance and guidance, we would be nonexistent today," Spearman said. "He has guided my commissioners and me in the direction that has led to the tremendous amount of growth that we have experienced."

The four commissioners on the THMHS board are Arlie South, Tishomingo County; Judy Ramey, Prentiss County; Troy Holliday, Tippah County; and Rodney Little, Alcorn County.

The state mental health agency is the largest state agency with 9,000 employees and a budget of more than $500 million.

"There is no other state that provides any better mental health than our state," Spearman said.

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