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According to a taxpayer-funded report released over the weekend, the Department of Mental Health (DMH) is facing significant structural and fiscal deficiencies. 
 
Jimmie Gates at the Clarion Ledger has a good write up outlining the findings of the Technical Assistance Collaborative report, a nonprofit hired by the state. 
 
The conclusions?  DMH is an intractable mess.  Poorly run.  Overstaffed.  Poorly organized.  Subject of a federal lawsuit.  Politically insulated.
 
A few folks saw this coming.  It's worth noting that Governor Phil Bryant and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves were actually on the same page publicly about the solution.
 
In the 2017 regular session, a bill was offered - SB 2567 - that would have moved the state forward toward a reorganization to address the deficiencies and put the agency under the Governor with a legislatively accountable Advisory Board.  Due to political turfdom, it was allowed to die in the state Senate, thanks largely to a handful of Republican senators - Jennifer Branning, Nickey Browning, Tommy Gollott, Chris McDaniel, Gray Tollison, Dean Kirby and Chad McMahan that voted with the balance of Democrats.  It actually passed the Senate and then died on a motion to reconsider
 
Y’all Politics editor Alan Lange did a deep dive on the politics surrounding SB 2567's defeat back in February.
 
Lange wrote then, "On the merits, this bill may not have been perfect, but the clearly conservative approach would be to put the Department of Mental Health under elected supervision. Subject to federal lawsuits, the agency clearly underperforms. Tennessee, a state with twice as many people, serves over 50% more people in their state with 1/3rd the employees and spending about 20% less as a percentage of their state budget than does Mississippi. The stats are similarly alarming in comparison to other similarly situated southern states."
 
A parallel can be made to how the Governor was allowed to restructure Child Protection Services in wake of the Olivia Y lawsuit, a move that has produced the necessary, desired results and gained positive attention for the state.
 
In the 2016 session, SB 2179 initially passed the state Senate with 50 votes with 1 present vote. On the conference report, 7 Democrats flipped to vote against the measure putting the final tally on the bill at 44-7.
 
As a result, Child Protection Services was made an independent agency with the Governor as the direct overseer, enabling significant changes to be made with a precision focus, beginning with Gov. Bryant's appointment of someone whose credentials were unassailable – former State Supreme Court Justice David Chandler.
 
One has to wonder why such a milestone precedent wasn't followed in 2017 given the gravity of what is at stake regarding the Department of Mental Health.  
 
Perhaps it was folks not wanting to be seen as voting against big government employers in their district, as Lange pointed to in his article earlier this year, or perhaps legislators simply did not fully grasp or care about the deficiencies at DMH dangling out there.  
 
Either way, this is an issue that cannot be ignored and left to fester come January 2018. 

Posted June 21, 2017 - 8:50 am

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