Warren Yazoo Behavioral Health expanding, rebranding as River Ridge Behavioral Health

Published 3:00 pm Monday, June 26, 2023

Warren Yazoo Behavioral Health is expanding its reach to four additional counties and will soon go by a new moniker: River Ridge Behavioral Health.

Addressing the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Warren Yazoo Executive Director Bobby Barton said the expansion has been in the works since February 2023, when the agency was contacted by Mississippi Coordinator of Mental Health Accessibility Bill Rosamond.

Rosamond, whose office is a division of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, notified Warren Yazoo, also known as the Region 15 Community Mental Health Center (CMHC), that the adjacent Region 11 Southwest CMHC was “struggling to survive financially.” As coordinator, Rosamond is authorized by the state legislature to facilitate the joining of struggling centers with successful ones.

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“Several years ago, the Department of Justice came in, went before a judge in Jackson and they said in some places in the state, (where people) weren’t getting enough mental health services,” Barton said. “And we have a DOJ monitor who comes in and there have been great improvements. … Three regions have already had to be taken over previously because of financial crises.

“Rosamond came to us and said Region 11, which is based in McComb and includes nine counties, is kind of like the rural hospitals you hear about on television — they didn’t have the funding to keep them going,” Barton added. “So in that case, they asked Hattiesburg to take the five eastern counties and us to take the counties on the (Mississippi) River side.”

Hattiesburg-based Region 12 CHMC is adding five of the eastern counties from Region 11 to its territory. Locally, Region 15 is adding the four western counties from Region 11: Adams, Claiborne, Jefferson and Wilkinson.

The addition of four counties to its scope of work also means the addition of additional commissioners representing the now six counties in Region 15: four in Warren County, two in Yazoo and Adams counties, and one commissioner each for Claiborne, Jefferson and Wilkinson counties.

Barton and Don Brown, Deputy Executive Director of Warren Yazoo Behavioral Health, went before the county supervisors Monday to present their recommendations for the three additional commissioners needed. Should their nominations be accepted at the county’s July 3 meeting, joining alongside current Warren County commissioner Col. Benny Terrell will be: Kay Lee, Sheila Lowe and A.J. “Buddy” Dees.

“All the counties in the state, by authorization, appoint one commissioner and have to put up a government contribution to have a mental health center in our county,” Barton said. “We’re very thankful that $150,000 a year is what Warren County provides us. That investment brings around $8 million (in mental health services) total for Warren and Yazoo counties.”

In addition to absorbing these counties into Region 15, the newly formed River Ridge CMHC will also add an additional three facilities (Claiborne County, Natchez and Fayette) and lease a facility in Centerville.

In Natchez, the facility includes a 12-bed Crisis Stabilization Unit that Barton described as “like a mini hospital” for those who are committed due to behavioral health concerns.

“If they meet the right criteria, (patients) can be committed to that 12-bed facility to see if the staff — soon to be our staff — can stabilize them so they don’t have to go to the state hospital or to jail,” Barton said. “It’s a massive task to operate, but once we get it up and running it’s a great asset.”

The name change to River Ridge Behavioral Health will go into effect on July 1. The Warren County Supervisors will discuss the three commissioner appointments at its next meeting on July 3 at 9 a.m. at the Warren County Courthouse.