by Hunter Dawkins

After a lengthy special meeting called at the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport Monday morning, a passionate discussion began on the funding of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center in West Gulfport as it released a statement last week of potential closure due to financial problems.

Gulfport Chief of Police Leonard Papania spoke intensely saying, “We need to know how deep the hole is and a dollar amount to rebuild the program.”  Papania followed by stating, “If we can determine what happened, we can plan something before the ship starts to sink again.”

Harrison County District 1 Supervisor Beverly Martin countered Papania expressing, “We were unaware of the financial amounts,” and she heard of “transportation issues” that led to the center potential closure.  Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson aggressively conveyed, “We can’t move forward until we have a magic number regardless of whether it’s criminal action or incompetence.”

Both Harrison County top law enforcement officers delivered ardent messages due to having this facility care for many with special needs conditions.

County Board President and District 3 Supervisor Dr. Marlin Ladner believed “we’ve got to change something and we’re not gonna spend the taxpayers money to make the system the same.”

As Dr. Ladner presented a letter from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Executive Director Diana S. Mikula, the Harrison County Board of Supervisors unanimously accepted the options.  The letter was designated for Region 13, as Harrison County is one of four counties in this region (Harrison, Hancock, Stone, Pearl River) which requested 50% of its allocated 2020 fiscal year state grant funding.  This amount comes out to over $700,000 and the state department would provide technical assistance from other state agencies.

With the county taking the options provided in the letter, there must be a sustained business plan to remain a community mental health/intellectual disability center, securing county contributions at a rate of 50% of the county contributions is required for fiscal year 2020, services are to be appropriately billed to applicable payors (Medicaid, managed care, private insurance, private pay, etc.), and continue to contribute core services (crisis stabilization, mobile crisis services, serve existing individuals and those being discharged from state hospitals).

Based on information provided by Papania and Peterson, the Pine Belt Mental Healthcare program was recommended for knowledge and experience.  The Board unanimously approved this help following the suggestions.

Hancock County Board of Supervisors President Blaine LaFontaine told The Gazebo Gazette, “We received the letter, but our board attorney advised the county not having to meet and adopt the resolution until July 29.”

Beginning the meeting, Harrison County Chancery Clerk John McAdams gave an update on the digital project converting all of the county records from microfilm to computer images.  The records displayed exist as far back as 1841.

Then, the board heard from John Olsen of LPK architects to discuss the multi-department facility.  Despite Olsen discussing the Seaway Road sites in Gulfport, Dr. Ladner suggested that studies should be done with the northern industrial park near Saucier because the county is paying for it.

In other actions, the Board unanimously approved the receipt of check from the city of Pass Christian in the amount of $85,863.19 for paving reimbursement, an order authorizing interfund loans and repayment once federal/state grants are received, an order approving a payment of claims in the amount of $4700 to Pass Christian Public Schools for the lease of 16th Section Land for a ball park located in the school district and approving assistance for athletic facilities of the Harrison County School District per the terms of the Interlocal Agreement.

Finally, a request by a small business named The Claiborne at Gulfport Highland, LLC asked for a tax exemption pursuant to the MS Health Care Industry Zone incentive program.  Board Attorney Tim Holleman suggested a five year option if this group created jobs.  After this proposal, the Board of Supervisors closed with a unanimous adoption.

“The Harrison County Board of Supervisors has no intention of allowing Gulf Coast Mental Health Center to close its doors and disrupt services to the thousands of people who use it in Harrison County,” according to Harrison County Public Information Officer Jeff Clark.  “The board was blindsided by the July 16 letter announcing Gulf Coast Mental Health Center would be closing.”

The County Supervisors are finishing an agreement between the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and the four-county commission of Harrison, Stone, Pearl River and Hancock counties (Region XIII) that will allow the continuation of services from the Gulf Coast Mental Health Center.

Monday, August 5 in Gulfport is when the next meeting is scheduled.