Mississippi has 120 days to come up with mental health plan

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi has 120 days to come up with proposed long-term plan for how it will work to prevent unnecessary institutionalizations of people with mental illness in state hospitals, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ordered that the state’s initial plan be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department and an independent monitor, Michael Hogan, for feedback. The final plan must be completed in 180 days.

Hogan is a mental health care veteran with 40 years’ experience. He previously served as special master amid the ongoing litigation between the Mississippi Department of Health and the federal government.

Hogan is “well-suited by qualifications, experience and judgment to serve as Monitor in this case,” Reeves wrote.

The Justice Department sued Mississippi in 2016, and Reeves ruled the state was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Federal attorneys said during a 2019 trial that mentally ill people were being held in jails because crisis teams did not respond. They said people had been forced to live far from their families because mental health services were not available in their hometowns. They also said people made repeated trips to Mississippi mental hospitals because there was no effective planning for them to transition to community services, and the most intensive kinds of services were not being made available.

During a July hearing, state attorneys said Mississippi has enacted programs that enable people to obtain treatment in their communities and avoid hospitalizations, such as mobile crisis teams, supportive housing and peer support services.

Justice Department attorneys said those services need to be expanded and there need to be metrics to ensure they are working.

While acting as special master, Hogan suggested a monitor be put in place to independently verify the state’s data on services it provides. He said the state did not appear to be collecting adequate information to interpret the success of services.

Under Reeves’ order, the state will be responsible for tracking a wide array of data, including state hospital admissions and the number of patients who remain in state hospitals more than 180 days, calls to mobile crisis teams and the number of people being placed in jail while waiting for a state hospital bed.

Mississippi will also be charged with starting a clinical review process. The state will be required to sample 100 to 200 patients a year “to assure that services are working as intended to address the needs of people with serious mental illness.”

Hogan said previously that the review process should provide a meaningful cross-check of data.

While acting as monitor, Hogan will be required to provide reports every six months on the state’s compliance with Reeves’ order. Reeves will hold a status conference with the state, the federal government and Hogan after each report is submitted. Hogan will be appointed for three years and could be reappointed. Hogan will be paid by the state, but Reeves’ order did not specify how much.

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