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Twelve Mississippi hospitals earn ‘A’ rating from hospital safety group

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Twelve Mississippi hospitals earn ‘A' rating from hospital safety group

The nonprofit Leapfrog Group released its hospital safety grades for the fall of 2022, and 12 Mississippi hospitals –including the financially troubled Greenwood Leflore Hospital – received an A rating.

The grade, which is assigned to about 3,000 general acute-care hospitals across the nation twice a year, is based on how hospitals and other protect their from errors, injuries, accidents and infections. The score from hospitals' performance on more than 30 national measures from the Centers for Medicare and Services (CMS), the Leapfrog Hospital Survey and other data.

The 's largest hospital and only academic medical center scored a C for the fourth year in a row.

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No Mississippi hospitals received an F grade, and one hospital received a D: Merit Health . Each grade is based on hospitals' performance in five categories: infections, problems with surgery, safety problems, practices to prevent errors, and , nurses and hospital staff.

“Taken together, those performance measures produce a single letter grade representing a hospital's overall performance in keeping patients safe from preventable harm and medical errors,” its website states.

According to the group, 250,000 people die each year from preventable errors in hospitals.

Here is the of grades for Mississippi hospitals:

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Graphic by Bethany Atkinson

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

Thanks to the Super Six, there’s now a shiny, gold ball in Blue Mountain

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Blue Mountain coach Regina Chills (left) and Keyauna Foote hoist the Class 1A Championship trophy. Credit: Keith Warren/MHSAA

For most of this made-for-Hollywood season, the remarkable Blue Mountain girls basketball team has been known as the Super Six. That's because for most of the season there were only six players, three with the last name of Foote.

Rick Cleveland

That explains the Six. The Super? The Blue Mountain Cougars brought a 28-1 record into Thursday night's Class 1A State Championship at Mississippi Coliseum, known as the Big House throughout Mississippi high school basketball. Rarely, if ever, has there been a smaller team in the Big House.

The opponent this night was 26-6 Lumberton, and nothing came easy for Blue Mountain. Nothing ever has for the Cougars, who represent the fourth smallest public school in Mississippi. The three smaller: The Mississippi School for the Deaf, the Mississippi School for the Blind and Piney Woods.

But basketball is big in small schools across northeast Mississippi's Hill Country, and that's especially true in Blue Mountain where there aren't enough to field a football team. The school also recently has dropped and softball due to the lack of players.

Keyauna Foote (right) with her proud daddy, Dominique Foote.

“We're a little school in a little bitty town,” said Dominique Foote, a former Blue Mountain Cougar and proud father of Keyauna Foote, the team's star player and Miss Basketball for Class 1A.

About 800 folks live in Blue Mountain. There are 66 – boys and girls, combined – in grades 7 through 12. The Cougars play their home on a gym floor that is roughly about three-quarters the size of a regulation basketball court. Put it this way: A player with big feet can't shoot a three-pointer from the corner because the three-point line extends just six inches short of out of bounds.

And even that's not all that's small about the Tippah County town about 34 miles northwest of Tupelo about six miles southwest of Ripley, the county seat.

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“Nope, we don't have any traffic lights in Blue Mountain,” said Regina Chills, the team's coach.

But the town without a traffic light now has one gleaming, gold state championship trophy. Despite many scary moments – and a dogged effort from Lumberton – Blue Mountain prevailed 38-36 in a defensive struggle that turned into an offensive barn-burner in the fourth quarter.

As usual, only the original Super Six played for Blue Mountain, while two more youngsters, promoted from the junior high team late in the season, watched and cheered from the bench. The three Footes, Keyauna and her first cousins A'rare and Beiga, made play after play after play, especially in the fourth quarter.

Keyauna scored 14 points, grabbed seven rounds, blocked two shots and passed out two assists. A'rare scored 11 points and made two steals. Beiga scored seven points and stole the ball three times. So, the three Footes provided 32 of the team's 39 points.

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The bench is a lonely place for the Blue Mountain girls basketball team. Credit: Keith Warren/MHSAA

There were some tense and anxious moments, like when Beiga Foote went down hard after a collision midway through the first quarter and had to the . The Super Six was suddenly down to five. Thankfully, Beiga returned after a short rest to recuperate. Another starter and key player, Ahkeeah Lipsey, drew her fourth foul in the last minute of the third quarter and sat for much of the fourth. But the Cougars kept hustling, kept answering every Lumberton – and there were plenty of those.

“We've done that all season,” Coach Chills said afterward. “Plus this was a championship game. No matter what happens, you have to stay in the game and keep playing.”

Mission accomplished. Baskets were cherished like rare gems through the first three quarters. Blue Mountain led 21-19 into the fourth quarter when both teams started scoring almost at will. Keyauna Foote scored three straight baskets to give the Cougars a five-point lead midway through, but Lumberton fired back and kept firing back until Keyauna scored what proved to be the winning basket on an in-bounds play with 20 seconds left.

As is always the case in the Big House this time of the year, a wild celebration ensued. If 866 folks live in Blue Mountain, nearly all were present and dancing in the stands.

Hard to say what next for Blue Mountain basketball. Four of the Super Six are seniors and won't be around next year. This year's junior high team was winless.

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“What are you going to do?” someone asked Coach Childs.

She held up her hands as if to dismiss the question. “Right now,” she said, “I'm going to go celebrate.”

No doubt, all of Blue Mountain, bursting with pride, will celebrate with her.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Jackson lawmakers ‘shocked’ after Henifin backs bill depleting local power

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Just over a year into his uniquely powerful role reviving 's water infrastructure, third-party Ted Henifin is supporting an effort to leave the city without any future control of its water and sewer assets.

Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, authored Senate Bill 2628, a renewed attempt to place the capital city's water and sewer infrastructure under the control of a “Capitol Region Utility Authority.” The measure passed out of its Senate committee last week.

Parker in last year's filed a similar bill, which Henifin, along with Jackson's legislative delegation and city officials, criticized as a power grab by the . That bill failed in the House.

But in a Feb. 23 press release, Henifin seemingly flipped his narrative on the state's efforts by giving his for SB 2628.

“After reviewing SB 2628, I believe this is a great foundation,” Henifin said in a Feb. 23 press release. “It appears that many of the comments I provided during the last session regarding the bill introduced in 2023 were taken to heart and this bill now includes many of the suggestions I made at that time.”

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Empowered by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, Henifin's primary role is to use about $800 million in federal funding to stabilize Jackson's water and, as of last fall, sewer systems. But the 2022 court order that hired Henifin also asked him to suggest a future governance structure for the water system after his time in charge ends.

While Henifin has yet to make an official recommendation to the court, he last year brought up an idea of creating a corporate nonprofit, similar to what's proposed in SB 2628, but also keeping ownership of the water assets with the city.

While the two versions of the Parker bill are largely similar, the 2024 version strips all power from Jackson city officials to have any say in how their water and sewer systems are . In the 2023 measure, the newly created utility authority would be governed by a nine-person board. Five appointees would have came from the governor and lieutenant governor, outnumbering the four that would have came from the mayor of Jackson.

While that version left the city with a minority of the board appointments, the 2024 measure goes even further: SB 2628 would give five appointees to the governor, and the remaining four to the lieutenant governor. That would leave who controls a city service in a majority Black, largely Democratic city in the hands of two white .

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Mississippi Today reached out to Henifin asking whether he had any concern with the lack of local power being proposed in the Parker bill. The third-party manager responded via e-mail that he has “no dog in the appointment fight.”

“I am agnostic as to who appoints the board,” Henifin said. “The important thing to me is the board seats remain as defined along with the various requirements of all board members — ratepayers connected to the system, no elected officials, etc.”

But state officials representing Jackson were far from pleased with his support of the bill.

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, told Mississippi Today that no one from the Jackson delegation even knew about Parker's bill until it was introduced at last week's Senate committee meeting. Horhn also said he met with Henifin earlier this week.

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“We met with Mr. Henifin this week to express our dismay with the position that we've been put into by his comments,” Horhn said, explaining that Henifin's support of the bill gives its proponents extra ammunition to argue for it.

On top of the city having no elected officials in charge of the proposed authority, the bill would also allow the authority to purchase the physical assets from Jackson at a “fair market value,” as determined by the federal court.

“It's disrespectful,” Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, said of the bill. “I'm going to do everything I can to try to kill the bill on (the House's) side if it gets here.”

Bell explained that the bill would “dilute” the power of Jackson residents in governing their own utilities. The position from Henifin, who has emphasized building trust with residents as a key to his , left Bell shocked, he added.

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“I was shocked, dismayed, and really left speechless,” the lawmaker said. “That's what I'm more disappointed about than anything, is before he made those statements he should have talked to the (Jackson) delegation first.”

Horhn added that the repeated attempts by the state to remove power from Jackson officials begs the question: Why have a city in the first place?

“We saw it with the airport, we saw it with the 1% sales tax, we saw it with the Capitol Complex Improvement District, we saw it with the Capitol Police, and we're seeing it now with the water and wastewater,” Horhn said. “At some point, the city of Jackson won't have any governing it'll be doing at all.”

Under SB 2628, the city's water, wastewater and storm water systems would be governed by the nine-person board, which would consult with the federal court to pick a president that would handle administrative tasks, such as hiring personnel, dealing with the infrastructure. The president would work “at the will and pleasure of the board.”

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The governor's five board appointees would have to include:

  • one employee of a large nonhealthcare business with at least 200 employees working within the service area.
  • an owner of a restaurant in the service area.
  • an employee of a nonprofit within the service area.
  • a member of the clergy leading a place of worship within the service area.
  • and an at-large appointee who lives or works in the service area.

The lieutenant governor's four appointees must include:

  • a small business owner whose primary location is in the service area.
  • an employee of a large facility in the service area.
  • an employee of a post-secondary institution in the service area.
  • and an at-large appointee who lives or works in the service area.

Henifin said there were a few changes to Parker's proposal that earned his support this session: requiring the president to serve as the third-party manager's deputy until Wingate relieves Henifin of his duties; maintaining Henifin and the court's control of federal money received so far; adding specifications as to who can be on the board; and defining the authority's customers as those connected to the Jackson systems as of July 1, 2024.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Lawmakers could limit when county officials in Mississippi can jail people awaiting psychiatric treatment

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This article was produced for ProPublica's Local Reporting Network in partnership with Mississippi Today. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

Key Mississippi lawmakers have introduced several bills that would drastically limit when people can be jailed without criminal charges as they await court-ordered psychiatric treatment.

The proposals follow an investigation by Mississippi and ProPublica finding that hundreds of people in the are jailed without charges every year as they go through the civil commitment process, in which a judge can force people to undergo treatment if they're deemed dangerous to themselves or others. People who were jailed said they were treated like criminal defendants and received no mental health care. Since 2006, at least 17 people have died after being jailed during the commitment process, raising questions about whether jails can protect people in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Civil rights lawyers contend Mississippi's practice is unconstitutional because it amounts to punishing people for mental illness, but the state's civil commitment law allows it. That law spells out the process by which people suffering from severe mental illness can be detained, evaluated and ordered into treatment. Under the law, those people can be held in jail until they're admitted to a state psychiatric hospital or another mental health facility if there is “no reasonable alternative.” If there isn't room at a publicly funded facility or open beds are too far away, local often conclude that they have no other option besides jail.

“Putting a person in jail because they're hearing voices and you don't know what to do with them — that's not right,” said state Rep. Kevin Felsher, R-, one of the lawmakers behind legislation to curtail the practice. The stories, he said, showed that people are jailed for longer than he thought and that Mississippi is unique in doing so.

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The proposals represent the biggest effort to change the state's civil commitment process since at least 2010, according to a review of legislation and interviews with mental health advocates. That year, lawmakers standardized the commitment process across the state and gave county officials the option to call on crisis teams before initiating the commitment process. A measure that would have prohibited jail detentions altogether ultimately failed.

A bill proposed by Felsher would allow jail detentions during the commitment process only for “protective custody purposes and only while awaiting transportation” to a medical facility. It would restrict such detentions to 72 hours. 

A bill authored by House Public Health Chairman Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, chair of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, would clamp down on the practice even more, allowing counties to jail people without criminal charges only if they are “actively violent” and for no longer than 24 hours. 

The vast majority of the 2,000 jail detentions in 19 counties analyzed by Mississippi Today and ProPublica lasted longer than 24 hours. About 1,200 lasted longer than 72 hours. (Those figures include detentions between 2019 and 2022 for both mental illness and substance abuse; the legislation would address only the commitment process for mental illness.)

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Rep. Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, has proposed a bill that would prohibit jail detentions for people going through the civil commitment process unless they are “actively violent” and would limit such detentions to 24 hours. The vast majority of detentions in 19 counties over four years lasted longer than that, according to an analysis by Mississippi Today and ProPublica. (Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today) Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Creekmore's bill, which passed out of committee without opposition Thursday, aims to reduce unnecessary commitments by generally requiring people to be screened for mental illness before paperwork can be filed to have them committed. Those screenings would be conducted in most cases by community mental health centers — independent , partly funded by state grants, that are supposed to mental health care close to home. That bill also would require those organizations to treat people while they're in jail.

A bill authored by Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, to increase state oversight of community mental health centers contains language similar to Creekmore's proposal restricting jail detentions. Her bill has been referred to the Judiciary A committee, which is chaired by one of its co-authors, Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-.

The bills would bring Mississippi more in line with other states that allow people going through the civil commitment process to be jailed in limited circumstances. South Dakota permits jail detentions without criminal charges but limits them to 24 hours. Wyoming permits them in an “extreme emergency” and only for 72 hours before a hearing. 

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health says reforming the commitment process is a priority this legislative session. “We don't want someone to have to wait in jail simply because they need mental health treatment,” said Wendy Bailey, director of the agency, at a January conference attended by county officials from all over the state.

But the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, which represents county governments, has raised questions about whether the bills would force county officials to spend more money. Under state law, counties are responsible for housing residents going through the commitment process until they are admitted to a state hospital. Some local officials contend they don't have any place other than jail to put people.

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“I think you'll find all 82 clerks, all 82 sheriffs, all 400 supervisors understand that the jail is not the place they need to be,” said Bill Benson, who as Lee County's chancery clerk coordinates the commitment process there. “But there has to be a place. If it's not the jail, there has to be a place available.”

Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said county leaders are “all for” keeping people out of jail while they wait for mental health care. But, he said, they're concerned that they'll be forced to pay for treatment in private facilities because there aren't enough publicly funded beds. None of the proposals would expand publicly funded treatment beds, nor would they provide funding to counties. The association hasn't taken a position on the bills to limit jail detentions.

“It's a whole lot of legislation being proposed telling the county and a regional mental facility what to do,” Surrette said. “Is there very much in there telling what the state shall do?”

The Department of Mental Health advises local officials to direct people who need help to outpatient mental health care when appropriate and to rely on the civil commitment process only when needed. If the commitment process can't be avoided, the department says officials should work with their local community mental health centers to seek alternatives to jail.

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A padded cell used to hold people awaiting psychiatric evaluation and court-ordered treatment at the Adams County jail in Natchez, Mississippi. Lacey Robinette Handjis, a 37-year-old hospice care consultant and mother of two, was found dead in one of the jail's two padded cells in late August, less than 24 hours after she was booked with no criminal charges to await mental health treatment. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The state has expanded the number of beds in crisis stabilization units, which are designed to provide short-term treatment in a less restrictive setting than state hospitals. Chancery clerks and sheriff's deputies complain that those facilities frequently refuse to accept people they deem to be violent or in need of additional medical care, though state data shows those refusals are declining. 

An additional bill filed by Felsher would require counties to pay for care at a medical facility if a judge has ordered someone into treatment, no publicly funded bed is available and the person can't pay for treatment. Although the Mississippi Association of Supervisors hasn't taken a position on that bill, either, it opposed a similar provision last year because the measure didn't provide any funding.

At a hearing in November 2022, Felsher asked Benson, the chancery clerk in Lee County, whether he would support his county paying hospitals to treat residents as an alternative to jail. Benson responded that if he did, “My supervisors would hang me.”

Benson said in an interview that it costs just $40 a day on average to jail someone in Lee County. By contrast, Neshoba County, which is among those that contract with private providers, pays between $625 and $675 a day to Alliance Health Center to treat county residents when no public bed is available.

Felsher said he hopes to expand the availability of public treatment facilities so counties aren't on the hook except in rare circumstances. But he also said he believes the cost of alternatives can't justify jailing people who haven't been charged with crimes.

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“We can't send people with mental illness to jail because the county doesn't want to pay for it,” he said. “If it is a fight, it's a fight that I will have. We may not win it, but we'll have it.”

Staffers with Disability Rights Mississippi say the bills don't go far enough because they don't ban jail detentions outright. At least a dozen states, neighboring Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee, have done so.

Without such a ban, Disability Rights Mississippi staff say they're planning to sue the state and some counties, alleging the practice is unconstitutional. A federal lawsuit in Alabama led to a ruling in 1984 prohibiting the practice there.

“Mississippi Today's reporting has revealed the horrifying scope of this problem, including those who have met an untimely and data to back it up,” said Polly Tribble, the organization's director. “I hope that, in light of these dire situations, the Legislature will be motivated to address these issues.”

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Bailey, head of the state Department of Mental Health, said she was not aware of the possibility of litigation until Mississippi Today asked about it. She said her agency is working to find ways to make sure people get mental health treatment without going through the civil commitment process, and to restrict the use of jail when they do.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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