Local Officials Still Battling for Mental Crisis Center

August 5, 2004 -- Posted at: 11:00p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR - The building off of Browns Lane that once housed the George Jackson Community Mental Health Center has sat empty for years. Up until 2 weeks ago, equipment that had been abandoned was still inside. Now Craighead County leaders are wondering if there will ever be another emergency mental unit in Northeast Arkansas.

"Mental health, as I see it, in my opinion is at the bottom of the list for any kind of funding," said Craighead County Sheriff Jack McCann.

If someone becomes violent and threatening, authorities pick them up, hoping one of the behavioral health clinics in Jonesboro will accept that patient.

McCann added, "We can't hold them just because of their mental condition. There has to be a criminal charge."

If the situation is more calm, then nothing is done until court offices open the next day. It doesn't matter when the patient is taken into state custody though, because a lack of funding is putting a burden on counties.

If someone wants to have a family member mentally evaluated, deputies have to drive that person to Little Rock. If that person is committed, that's 3 round trips in all. It calculates to more than $100 in fuel costs, at least 12 hours of driving time, and that does not include deputies' pay, and that's just for one patient.

There have been 57 commitments in Craighead County since the first of the year, and most of those have been in Little Rock.

"We've got a facility. We've got a need. What we don't have is funding, and I think it's the state's responsibility to come up with that funding," said Dustin McDaniel, an attorney. "Now it's important to note that the state's budget is stretched as thin as it can be stretched, and I don't advocate any additional taxes for this, but what we're really in need of is some additional help from the federal government."

Sheriff McCann commented, "If we use federal money, there's no guarantee that, you know, we may have federal money for a year, two years, three years, whatever, but eventually all federal money dries up, and then what do we do."

County and city leaders have been working to solve the funding problem for 2 or 3 years.

Billie Sue Hoggard, a member of the Craighead County Quorum Court, added, "It would be irresponsible of me to say, oh yes, we'll see what we can do. We'll try to get this done, before we know where the funding sources are, and I certainly wouldn't be for raising people's taxes to do it."

A group of county, city and state officials will meet later this month to discuss more about finding a local way to help protect patients from themselves. Dustin McDaniel said one proposal already being discussed is the possibility of using private contractors to help run a mental crisis unit more efficiently in Jonesboro.