Court's commitment orders cost county

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Dec. 29, 2000
A $16,085 bill sent to Lauderdale County supervisors from a private mental health care facility has officials scratching their heads over whether some sort of precedent has been set for future county expenses.
The bill is for treatment of two mental health patients committed by order of Chancery Court to Alliance Health Care Center until bed space became available at East Mississippi State Hospital. Supervisors considered the bills at a regular work session Thursday.
The bill for one patient's 28-day stay was $20,450 with pharmacy and therapy fees and supplies, Hiatt said, with Alliance giving the county a 25 percent discount.
Another patient's stay at Alliance, a private mental health care facility, totaled $1,002 for one day after laboratory, pharmacy and therapy fees were added to the facility's regular $500 per day rate.
County Administrator Rex Hiatt said the private hospital has housed county wards in the past but this is the first time the county has been billed. He said Alliance officials feel the hospital shouldn't have to absorb the costs.
A commitment order usually contains a stipulation that says the county can't be charged, but a special chancellor failed to enter such an order in the two cases, he said.
Hiatt said since a chancery court judge committed the patients, they are the county's responsibility until they are turned over to the state if they or their families can't pay the bill or don't have insurance that covers their treatment.
In such cases, Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie is awarded temporary custody, but because the county jail lacks adequate facilities and staffing for them, they must be housed elsewhere, he said.
Hiatt also said he doesn't know if local hospitals whose staffs provide medical care for county inmates charged to the county at a 25 percent discount have psychiatric facilities for people committed by chancery court judges.
Board attorney Les Prichard said there had to have been a hearing for the chancery judge to issue the orders.
Hiatt said some counties like Hinds spend "six figures a year on this" and that Lauderdale County has "been lucky up to this point." He said there is money in the county's contingency fund to cover the bill.
Supervisors turned the matter over to board attorneys for review.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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