Credit: Ellisville State School

The Department of Mental Health received approval Thursday from the state Personnel Board to cut 53 full time positions – the first of up to 650 department jobs that will be cut in coming weeks.

The Mississippi State Personnel Board unanimously approved cutting 53 positions at Ellisville State School, which provides long-term, residential care to adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, among other services. The facility is the largest and oldest of its kind in Mississippi.

But a “vast majority” of those jobs, department officials said Thursday, won’t be lost completely. Instead, most employees affected by the state job cuts will continue current work, but under community care providers instead of as state employees.

The department in April announced ti would have to cut 650 jobs by 2018 to close a $19.7 million budget gap in the current fiscal year.

But agency officials Thursday said the cuts would have occurred regardless of budget concerns under a new federal Medicaid rule that required states to split up the oversight and care of the Intellectual Disabilities/Developmental Disabilities Waiver Program.

Of the 53 full-time positions that were cut on Thursday, 40 were filled and 13 were vacant, officials said.

“This program is losing 53 positions, but the impact is going to be minimal for employees and people served,” said Adam Moore, director of communications for the Department of Mental Health. “Almost every single person is retaining some sort of job or has gotten another one. This is a way for us to smoothly handle a couple different situations: to deal with impact of budget cuts and the CMS rule change.”

Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources (Region 12) will absorb all current services for the patients, and “all but one or two” of the 40 affected Ellisville State School employees will work for Region 12, Moore said. The care of 64 patients will transfer from the Department of Mental Health to Region 12.

Ellisville State School is one of five Department of Mental Health programs that will undergo similar transitions to community care providers. Moore said on Thursday that he expects in the other four instances that patients will not lose current levels of care and most employees will still have jobs, just not with the state.

“The Mississippi State Personnel Board evaluated the request from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and determined that the agency followed the proper policies and procedures for implementing their action plan predicated by a shortage of funds,” Kelly Hardwick, executive director of the Mississippi State Personnel Board, said in a statement.

The Department of Mental Health received a $14.4 million budget cut this year. In addition, the agency said it will have $5.3 million in new expenses, for a total gap of $19.7 million.

To offset state budget cuts, the department announced that the Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton and East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian will cut 72 positions and 74 positions, respectively. East Mississippi plans to consolidate its adolescent psychiatric services program with one at Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield.

East Mississippi State Hospital faced a $5 million cut to that facility alone, while Central Mississippi Residential Center was cut close to $1.1 million. Six other facilities run by the Department of Mental Health faced budget cuts between $1 million and $14 million.

In addition, Central Mississippi will transition operation of its Footprints Adult Day Services program and its crisis stabilization unit to a private provider, Weems Community Health Center, based in Meridian. A representative for the Department said all current employees will have the opportunity to apply for positions through Weems.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.