Christiane Williams started uploading mental health videos to Facebook after seeking counseling in early 2020. She said she didn’t expect her videos to garner attention, but after her third post she received a message from a viewer who thanked her for her transparency.

The next words (she said were), I almost gave up on everything today until I heard from you, Williams recounted.

That message set Williams on a path to founding his own organization, Leading By Example-MS, providing workshops focused on mental health awareness and the resources available to Mississippians.

As a law enforcement officer in the Department of Corrections, part of Williams’ job is knowing the points of entry, which are inpatient mental health hospitals where the crisis intervention team can bring a patient for the treatment.

Behavioral health services at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson used to be one of two entry points into Mississippi, but on June 5, the hospital announced it was closing its mental health unit and laying off 157 full-time employees, some of them -time and PRN5.5 % of its total staff in its service areas.

The press release said this decision best served patients in central Mississippi and ensure the long-term viability of St. Dominics because the hospital has lost several million dollars over the past five years.

Meeting mental health needs that are no longer viable

St. Dominic Hospital Chief Executive Officer Scott Kashman said the hospital recognizes mental health as a significant need, with various aspects of mental health care emerging as six of the top 25 needs identified in the most recent assessment the health needs of the community.

While continuing to meet these needs directly is no longer viable for St. Dominics, we are working with partners to help patients access the care they need, Kashman said in the news release. Our health care system will continue to support additional state and federal resources to stabilize health care workers in Mississippi.

Kashman will leave her position at the hospital on July 7, Meredith Bailess, director of marketing at St. Dominic Hospital, told the Mississippi Free Press.

We appreciate Scott’s commitment to the Jackson community and his leadership of our team through a challenging financial environment and the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bailess said in a June 15 statement.

Chief Nursing Officer Kristin Wolkart of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System will become the interim market president June 20 to ensure a thoughtful transition in partnership with Scott (Kashman), the statement said.

Prior to his tenure as Chief Nursing Officer, Wolkart was President of Markets for St. Francis Health. She has been employed in the hospital system for 28 years.

Christiane Williams in a blue and black top standing against an orange background
Christiane Williams works as a law enforcement officer in the Mississippi Department of Corrections and as a mental health educator through her organization, Leading By Example-MS. Courtesy of Christiane Williams

Now that Merit Health Central Inpatient Adult Behavioral Health in Jackson is the single entry point for crisis intervention teams to bring people in for inpatient treatment, Christiane Williams said her hiring could double. People can also voluntarily choose to join Merit Health.

So, it’s essential that we get other mental health centers or treatment centers, facilities in this area because St. Dominics wasn’t just serving the tri-county area; they were people from all over the state in St. Dominics, he said.

He likened the drives shutting down to a heart malfunction.

So with St. Dominic’s closing, it’s almost like you’re sealing off one of your heart’s major valves, Williams said.

Four state mental health hospitals are open for inpatient services: Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis, and East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian. But these hospitals typically admit patients through involuntary commitment, when a court orders a person to seek treatment in a mental health facility.

Adam Moore, a public relations officer at the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, said people should go to their community health center, such as Region 8 and Region 9 in central Mississippi, for outpatient care.

Community health centers are indeed a kind of first contact for many people, and getting services through them can help prevent the need for inpatient services, such as those offered by St. Dominics, he said.

To help fill the gap in mental health services, Hinds Behavioral Health, or Region 9, is working to open another clinic, but it will only have up to 20 beds, Williams explained.

Moore said Mississippi State Hospital opened extra beds this year but was unable to fully operate due to staff shortages. East Mississippi State Hospital also added beds.

Mississippi health crisis

St. Dominic’s is the latest hospital in Mississippi to announce severe cuts to its services; several other hospitals have cut services in the past year, including labor and delivery units. Dozens of rural hospitals are in financial danger.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley responded to St. Dominics’ announcement with a June 6 statement by renewing calls for the state to accept billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid to more Mississippians, which could help financially hospitals as more patients would have coverage, reducing the burden of unpaid care. St. Dominic leaders backed a Medicaid expansion plan as early as 2014.

Almost every day we hear about a hospital disrupting critical health services or threatening to close its doors entirely, said Presley, who is currently the public service commissioner for the Northern District of Mississippi, in a June 6 statement.

Governor Tate Reeves and Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley in a side-by-side photo
Democratic candidate for governor Brandon Presley, right, called for the expansion of Medicaid on June 6, 2023, in response to reports of the closure of mental health services at St. Dominic Hospital. His likely opponent, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, is a longtime opponent of Medicaid expansion who said in January 2023 that he favors free-market solutions instead.

His likely opponent, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, has long opposed expanding Medicaid and urged fellow Republicans earlier this year to instead seek innovative free-market solutions that disrupt traditional drug delivery models. healthcare, increase competition and lead to better health outcomes for Mississippians. In March, the incumbent signed a bill allowing community hospitals to partner or consolidate with the University of Mississippi Medical Center at Jackson.

Christiane Williams has called on local, state and federal officials to respond to the mental health crisis in this state by providing more patient care facilities.

She speaks at conferences and churches to raise awareness of mental illness and provide resources, such as the National Mental Health Hotline that people can call 988 whenever they need help. Williams is also trained in continuing education for law enforcement, which she provides as an employee of the Department of Corrections.

I try to make sure people know that help is out there, you know. Death is not the answer when we’re going through a mental health crisis, Williams said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness-Mississippi at 601-899-9058 or 800-357-0388 and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health at 1-877-210-8513 are available for non-emergency needs. A list of mental health resources in Mississippi is available at mentalhealthms.com

Hinds Behavioral Health Service has a mobile crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 601-953-6381 with licensed therapists who can connect Mississippians with a nearby community mental health center.

The National Mental Health Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 988. People can call or text the crisis prevention or emotional support lifeline.

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Image Source : www.mississippifreepress.org

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