Pine Belt Mental Health seeks to assist local authorities

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - When a mental illness gets to an extreme state, many Pine Belt patients waiting for treatment end up in jail.

Pine Belt Mental Health Officials are meeting with county leaders and local Sheriff's Departments to offer a better solution.

Pine Belt Mental Health serves nine counties across the state and they're now offering another option to law enforcement. Folk's facing a civil commitment can be diverted to West Way, a crisis stabilization center in Laurel.

Pine Belt Mental Health Director of Adult Services Dr. Rita Porter said, "During the civil commitment procedure, people are picked up and held in a holding facility waiting for an evaluation and court proceeding. That typically, for most counties means, that they are held in a county jail."

Definitely not the right environment according to Porter. Officers at county jails are not equipped to handle those suffering from a mental illness, neither is the facility they are housed in.

"It's an expense to the county," said Porter, "and often counties don't have appropriately trained personnel to monitor and work with those patients. Often though, the counties don't have any choice because they don't have any other options, and it is important for the client to be held in a secure location. We are speaking with all of the Chancery Clerk's and Sheriff's, and each of the counties that we serve to be able to use West Way as a holding facility. If a person is willing to start treatment there prior to the civil commitment order, we can actually get treatment started. We could possibly even divert the commitment and have them not go to the state hospital."

A trend the state is trying to move towards said Porter. Waiting in jail can be traumatic for patients and the family members who have sought out help for them. The goal for Pine Belt Mental Health is to get these folk's the help they need and get them functioning back in society as quick as they can.

Currently, Forrest County has a holding facility outside of the jail, where mentally ill patients are cared for by mental health professionals.

Perry County and Covington County also house patients in the Forrest County holding facility.

PBMH took over West Way last year. According to Porter, it costs roughly $1.8 million a year to operate the facility, which is about a half a million dollars less than it cost when the state was operating it.

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