Mississippi State Hospital. Credit: Mississippi State Hospital

Mississippi is a step closer to having a state run facility for male chemical dependency again as early as July.

On Wednesday, the Senate Public Health Committee voted to reopen the male chemical dependency unit at Mississippi State Hospital. But questions about funding the $1.9 million unit remain as the bill makes its way to the Appropriations Committee, where is was also referred.

The Department of Mental Health closed all of its male drug treatment facilities at both Mississippi State Hospital and East Mississippi Hospital in May, citing an $8.3 million cut to their 2017 budget. A public outcry followed because the move eliminated all state-run chemical dependency beds for men.

“Regardless of what our budget is, that is one of the greatest priorities we have in the health area,” said Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, who sponsored the legislation. “It’s something that communities have depended on … and its (elimination has) created a lot of problems in localities and enforcement areas for people who are seeking help and those who are trying to provide help.”

But since then, two mid-year budget cuts, totaling $3.5 million, have further restricted the department’s finances.

The Department of Mental Health called reopening the unit “one of the department’s legislative priorities” this session, but said that currently funding for the unit remains unclear.

“(We) know we are only at the beginning of the appropriations process. We will be working with the Legislature to determine funding priorities as we move forward in the legislative session,” said Adam Moore, director of communications for the Department of Mental Health.

Still, Sen. Hill said the money could probably be found within the Department’s remaining appropriation.

“I think you look at the overall budget and you’ll find that it’s there,” Hill said in a subcommittee meeting Wednesday morning.

But Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, questioned whether finding the funds is that simple. He argued that fallout from these budget cuts and a bill last session that swept agencies’ special funds into the state general fund makes it difficult to determine how much money the Department of Mental Health has at its disposal.

“I can’t make a decision because I don’t have a budget,” Bryan said.

For the most part, the senators, who voted unanimously in favor of the bill, voiced strong support for the legislation. Funding questions, Hill said, should be tackled later.

“I think Appropriations is the proper place to have that discussion,” Hill said.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.