VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — A hospital company has shut down the only inpatient mental health unit in western Mississippi’s Warren County, and the sheriff says the closure will cause major problems.
Merit Health River Region’s behavioral health unit in Vicksburg closed June 30, and its 50 beds were transferred to Merit Health Central Mississippi in Jackson, the Vicksburg Post reported.
The two hospitals are about 39 miles (63 kilometers) apart.
“It’s going to be a great hardship on this entire community,” Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said. “For a community the size of Vicksburg and Warren County not to have a mental health facility to adequately treat those with mental illnesses is a shame.”
Pace said when serving mental health orders from chancery court, deputies had been taking people to the behavioral health unit at River Region. Now, he said, deputies have to drive people to a facility in Jackson or elsewhere, then bring them back to Vicksburg for a mental health commitment hearing.
“If the court commits the person to that same facility or another facility, then we would have to transport the person to that facility,” Pace said. “And without one being in Vicksburg, we’re talking about multiple trips back and forth to Jackson or some other city where an adequate mental health facility exists.”
Community Health Systems — based in Franklin, Tennessee — owns nine Merit Health hospitals in Mississippi.
According to Merit Health, the decision to move behavioral health from River Region was part of a plan to reduce duplication of services. In 2022, Merit Health officials filed a certificate of need application with the Mississippi State Department of Health to transfer the 50 behavioral health beds from the Merit Health River Region West Campus to Merit Health Central in Jackson. That transfer was completed June 30.
“While the distance is further for Vicksburg/Warren County patients, (patients) will receive treatment in a newer facility, and this increases our overall capacity to provide critically needed behavioral health services for the region,” company officials said.
Warren County Chancery Clerk Donna Hardy said Friday she and several deputy clerks spent most of Thursday trying to locate beds for mental health patients awaiting treatment.
“It boiled down to they had no availability,” she said. “People were lining up, they have waiting lists; people were in the emergency room waiting to be placed. (Merit Health Central) is the only one that we could find that is even taking (patients) right now, but they’re full.”