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Judge considering center for drug, alcohol help program

Court-ordered rehabilitation for drug and alcohol offenders may soon be a locally based option for those facing charges in Lincoln County Justice Court, a choice authorities say would provide them with better options for sentencing and enhance the effectiveness of such treatment.

Lincoln County Justice Court Judge Ralph Boone and Post One Probation Officer Roger Leggett made a quick inspection of Newhaven Recovery Center Thursday during the facility’s annual open house to determine if it would be a viable treatment center for the many drug- and alcohol-related cases that come through the local courts.

“We wanted someone in Lincoln County we could use so the people around here wouldn’t have to go so far to get help,” Boone said. “I’ve had people come into my courtroom and break down and cry. They need help, and I’m looking for someone to get them some help.”

Currently, the justice court does not utilize a rehabilitation center for its offenders. Leggett said the court’s only course of action concerning rehabilitation for drug and alcohol offenders is to send them for an assessment, but a short-term rehab facility would provide a better and longer lasting service.

“We’re not going to be able to help people if we can’t find the right and good facilities,” he said.

The judge’s and probation officer’s inspection of Newhaven is the first step in a set of rehabilitation goals set forth by Boone and Post Two Justice Court Judge Ann Reeves when they assumed office in early 2008.

“I’ve got people I’m having to put in jail to dry ’em out,” Boone said. “With [Newhaven], we can send them to get professional help.”

Boone’s tour of Newhaven was just that; nothing has been made officials concerning the justice court’s sentencing options. Boone was, however, optimistic upon completion of his review.

“I think we’re going to be able to use these people,” he said of Newhaven. “We’ll just have to try ’em and see.”

Newhaven has plenty of space available for the judge’s trial runs. Newhaven Director of Alcohol and Drug Services Dr. Norman Collins said only about 10 of his facility’s 36 beds are occupied, but the small census does not reflect a lack of need for the 42-day treatment program occurring there.

Collins said many Lincoln County residents don’t even know the facility on Nalco Lane exists, but he’s looking to change that awareness – and the way the center operates.

“My biggest thing since I’ve been here is trying to make sure this facility and staff can provide quality services to the individuals we serve, and then we can market that product to reach other people in need,” he said.

Collins said there are likely many Lincoln County residents who could use Newhaven’s programs to clean up and break their addictions if they were shown the true nature of the facility.

Newhaven, which operates alongside the Lincoln County LifeSkills Center under the Southwest Mississippi Mental Health Complex in Region 11, does not operate like a prison or hospital, Collins said.

The center provides 24-hour care for 42 days, detoxification, counseling, recreation and many other forms of therapy. The facility also offers prevention and after-treatment services.

Many people could take advantage of the facility if they could get passed the stigma concerning drug and alcohol treatment as well, Collins said.

“It’s confidential here, and I’m very serious about that,” he said. “We have (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Acts) laws, and I guard them with everything that’s in me.”

Besides the programs already offered at the facility, Collins has been working to institute more since he assumed his position last August.

He hopes to one day develop a yearlong treatment plan to combat the risk of relapse in some patients and combine the two centers under one roof. Collins also plans to begin actively recruiting local support for the center from churches and various organizations.

Perhaps Collins’ biggest goal is to make the facility eligible to accept insurance and Medicaid.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to people checking into Newhaven, he said, is money. The cost of a 42-day stay is slightly more than $6,000, with low-income patients allowed to pay $850 on a sliding scale based on family size and income.

All of those dollars are needed, said Region 11 Executive Director Dr. Steve Ellis. SWMMHC receives only small appropriations and grants from state government and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health – which it operates alongside rather than under – and a $10,000 allotment from the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors. The majority of its funding, he said, comes from fees for services.

Consequently, the small budget organization consistently runs in the red, Ellis said. Losing even a relatively small amount by organizational funding standards hurts – a recent $17,000 cut to grants from the department of mental health was enough to almost fund one case manager position, he said.

“You don’t make any money doing alcohol and drug treatment the way we do it,” Ellis said. “We do it because it’s an important and needed service. We’ve had to double and triple up on duties in some cases so we could maintain our direct services staff.”

There has been progress, however. Ellis said the SWMMHC last month recorded its best December since 2004.

“We’ve been able to pull off a difficult task – improving our programs while maintaining our funding,” he said.

source: The Daily Leader

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