by Hunter Dawkins, Publisher

Following lengthy and emotional deliberation, the Harrison County Board of Supervisors authorized execution of service agreements with Oceans Behavioral Hospital and Gulfport Behavioral Health System unanimously, for the treatment and housing of indigent county residents if PineBelt Mental Healthcare was not available.

Before the vote, Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson commented the problem for his department has been the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) not accepting a mental unstable resident where the law enforcement is forced to bring them back to the hospital instead of keeping them at this facility.

In 2019, the second largest county in the state contracted with the Pine Belt Mental Healthcare as a region; along with Hancock and Stone Counties, because of poor finances and resources provided at the mental health center in Gulfport.  It has been reported the CSU in PineBelt has denied a few court ordered indigent residents due to lack of beds and health reasons.

As Board Attorney Tim Holleman pointed out, “There are two laws that are dealing with the court ordered writ, and this whole thing started because we had a facility send a huge bill to the board.  The board tried to draft a contract where they would have some input.”  Furthermore, Holleman stated, “the contract says there must be a court order or the county won’t pay the bill and the court order last for seven days after this, the person would have to go back to get additional time.”

Harrison County Chancery Clerk John McAdams interjected after the attorney was finished, saying “The process in the clerk of the chancery court all begins with me.  I have everything you need, including the packets, the contacts at the hospital, where the sheriff department handles the writ.  The person has a hearing in the court where it is determined if that person is indigent.  If CSU is full, this allows a remedy for the situation.”

District 3 Supervisor Marlin Ladner (R-Pass Christian, Long Beach, W Gulfport) inquired about the contract in relation to the taxpayers, stating, “I don’t want to be paying for services at PineBelt Mental and if a person is eligible to use that facility, they need to go there because we are paying for it.  Secondly, if those services are not available that’s where we need our contracts with the hospitals to come in.”

McAdams did not agree with this, conveying “If CSU is not available nor a state hospital after a hearing that determined this need.  The number one step is to the Pine Belt facility where their decision is reported to the court.  This is a remedy.”

Ladner finished by asking McAdams, “If this person is not being held in the PineBelt CSU, you will have the record as to why they’re not there.”  McAdams replied that he would and the board finished the discussion by voting to approve the agreement with these private facilities.