ELLISVILLE, MS (WDAM) - The United State Department of Justice says some of the 436 patients inside Ellisville State School should not be there.
"The Department of Justice is claiming that we are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act," said School Director Renee Brett.
Passed in 1999, the ADA mandates that patients who are high functioning enough to live integrated into a city, are better off living in a community, rather than in an institution like the school.
"They want to see these individuals serve in a non-disabled city, or a non-disabled community. They feel that we are providing congregate living with individuals that all have disabilities and that they need to have those opportunities to go out into the community, make friends in the community, develop relationships, make choices," said Brett.
Brett said that the school has been moving towards that goal, and have been slowly shrinking the number of patients they have as more integrated off-campus facilities have become available. But Brett said that cost has been an obstacle.
"Our failure to move in that direction is totally due to lack of funding."
State legislators did not allot the institution the costly one-time lump sum needed to restructure and begin operating the way the federal government's law requires.
So now the DOJ is forcing the state mental health department to do it, working with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health to reach a settlement in which state institutions meet federal standards. The guidelines for the changes have not been decided, but one thing is certain - Ellisville State School will be smaller in the end.
In order to comply with ADA, staff will go patient by patient to evaluate and talk with families to determine which patients will fare better in facilities outside the institution.
The school is prepared to have about half as many patients as it has currently by the end of the restructuring, and that means that the school's more than 1600 staff will not be necessary.
"At this point in time, I don't think I can really make a comment on whether we are at risk of closing. I can tell you that we will downsize significantly in our numbers," Brett said.
Jones County Board of Supervisors President Andy Dial said that when DOJ changes finally come down – they are expected to lop off a good portion of a county economy pillar.
"Ellisville state school is the third largest employer in Jones County, they've been down there about 90 years, so they're actually part of the family in Jones County," said Dial. "I know what they're trying to do, they're trying to get those residents into local communities and other things and I think that's good. But I think in some places that won't work too."
In Jones county the reorganization of Ellisville State School may be a case of – what is best for the patients does not coincide with what is best for the community.
As for a timeline - the Justice Department decision should come in the next months, and that will likely give the school between five and ten years to lay off employees and relocate patients.