Attorney General Hood lambasts Legislature on mental health

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Speaking to health professionals Thursday, Attorney General Jim Hood blasted legislators for failing to properly fund state mental health programs.

Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

Attorney General Jim Hood speaks at a National Alliance on Mental Health Mississippi annual conference on Thursday.

“You know the fixes for this,” he told a lunchtime session at the National Alliance Mental Health Mississippi’s annual conference. “I encourage you to get out and speak up to encourage those in the Legislature to fund a lot of these programs.”

Hood mentioned repeatedly that the state’s money would be better spent inside mental health agencies and programs than in tax cuts for big businesses or legal fees associated with mental health lawsuits against the state.

The Department of Mental Health is in the midst of a federal lawsuit filed in August by the U.S. Department of Justice, which said the state discriminates against adults with mental illness by relying on “unnecessary institutionalization,” in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit was long expected after the Justice Department issued a scathing investigative report in December 2011.

He told the room full of mental health professionals “we’ve elected a bunch of cowards that want to take some oath and don’t have the guts to stand up and tell us they’ve made a mistake.”

“The fact is that’s what this is about, it’s all about the money, and you have to spend a little bit of money to save money,” Hood said. “And you can’t get these folks (legislators) to understand that because they’re only focused on the next election.”

Lawsuit aside, DMH is also dealing with impending layoffs due to a $19.7 million budget shortfall.

“It’s just a question of when at some point our leaders are willing to put their money where their mouth is and fix some of these issues,” Hood said.

Hood also thanked professionals and updated them on the work his office was doing in the mental health arena.

Hood said his office is currently working on creating a task force to help parents and caregivers navigate the complicated process of committing loved ones into mental health facilities, because the process varies from county to county.

Additionally, his office is working with law enforcement to better equip them with dealing with mentally ill suspects.