A mental health official in Greenwood said she’s optimistic following a federal judge’s decision to appoint an expert to oversee changes in Mississippi’s mental health system.

“I thought it was fair and balanced,” said Phaedre Cole, executive director of Life Help, the community-based mental health center that serves residents of 12 counties, including Leflore.

Cole was referring to an order and opinion issued last week by  U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

Reeves wrote that “despite the state’s episodic improvement, it operates a system that unlawfully discriminates against persons with serious mental illness.”

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Mississippi, arguing that the state’s mental health system does not give patients enough opportunities for community mental health services and many therefore end up in psychiatric institutions.

Reeves agreed with the Department of Justice, writing that experts had provided “dozens of examples of individuals who were unnecessarily hospitalized or hospitalized too long because they were excluded from community-based services.”

Reeves ordered the justice department and the state to each provide him with a list of three candidates for special master, along with proposals for each candidate’s role.  

Mississippi has 14 community mental health centers, which are certified by the state’s Department of Mental Health. Cole said the goal is to care for people in their own communities.

Life Help serves about 10,000 people a year within its jurisdiction, Cole said. Statewide, the state serves 110,000 annually, Cole said.

Due to a shift in funding from the state Department of Mental Health, additional money was available for enhanced community services, Cole said. In Life Help’s district, there has been  a 46% reduction in patients admitted to state-run hospitals in the current fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1.  Statewide, there has been a 20% reduction in patient admission, she said.  

Cole said that as the state moves forward to better its community mental health centers, it should not “over-correct the system.”

“There’s always a need for state hospital beds,” she said.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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