Cash-strapped UMMC closing two wellness centers

University of Mississippi Medical Center will close two of its Jackson wellness centers by the end of the month in its ongoing struggle to reconcile a $24.5 million budget shortfall. Last month, UMMC announced an unexpected $35 million reduction in Medicaid funding to the hospital. The cut came after the Division of Medicaid reworked the formula for disproportionate share payments, which reimburse hospitals across the state for the charity care they provide. After an appeal on the formula’s methodology, Medicaid reduced the $35 million cut by $10.5 million. But UMMC said in a release that departments and units across the state are working to reduce expenses by $24 million by June 30.

Mental health pilot program added to Rivers McGraw DUI bill

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Rivers McGraw legislation was amended to include mental health diversion programs.

The Senate approved legislation Tuesday which would establish mental health diversion pilot programs in four judicial districts across the state. The pilot programs, which will be in Rankin/Madison, Lafayette, Louisville, and Harrison Counties, will offer alternate sentencing for anyone with a diagnosed mental illness who commits certain drug or alcohol-related crimes. Rather than jail time, sentences could include screenings, counseling and rehabilitative care. “Hopefully this bill will allow us to save kids’ lives rather than churning them through the criminal justice process,” said Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, who presented the bill. The legislation, which passed with only one vote opposed, largely replaces earlier legislation inspired by the death last fall of Rivers McGraw.

HB 1523 federal appeals hearing set for April

The fight over last year’s House Bill 1523 could kick into gear again as early as April. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has scheduled oral arguments on the controversial “religious freedom” law for the week of April 3 in Lubbock, Texas. Gov. Phil Bryant is appealing a June federal court ruling that declared HB 1523 unconstitutional minutes before it would have become Mississippi law. The law singles out three “sincerely held” religious beliefs as worthy of protection: that marriage is between one man and one woman; that people should not have sex outside such marriages; and that a person’s gender is set at birth. The legislation, which legally protects anyone who refuses marriage-related services because of these beliefs, hit a national nerve when Bryant signed it into law last April. Opponents have argued it unfairly targets gay, lesbian and transgender individuals for discrimination.