The Hancock County office of Gulf Coast Mental Health.

Hancock County officials said Monday they were as shocked as everyone else when they learned last week that Gulf Coast Mental Health planned to close its doors.

The Gulf Coast Mental Health Board of Directors last week sent letters to the Hancock, Harrison, Stone and Pearl River County boards of supervisors that all its facilities would close in August due to a $5 million billing deficit. Officials said the agency apparently did not send bills for or collect around $5 million in payments from Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance over the course of the past year or more.

"For the past 15 years, Gulf Coast Mental Health has certainly played an important role in our community," Hancock County Board of Supervisors President Blaine LaFontaine said this week. "We received a letter (last) week regarding the closure and we started asking questions about the audits."

Hancock County Administrator Eddie Favre represented the county at a Coast-wide meeting in Gulfport on Monday to discuss possible solutions. At that meeting, the Mississippi Department of Health announced it would advance $1.5 million to the agency from the 2020 fiscal year budget -- 50 percent of its annual allocation -- to help keep Gulf Coast Mental Health going. Each of the counties GCMH services, however, are also expected to advance 50 percent of their respective total 2020 allocations.

For Hancock County, LaFontaine said, that amounts to about $110,000, which would have to be made up elsewhere.

While the Harrison County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to put up its 50 percent advance share -- about $700,000 -- LaFontaine said the Hancock Board will meet on Monday, July 29, to make its decision.

"We will be discussing the long-term outlook and moving forward," LaFontaine said. "We don't want to just in essence 'kick the can down the road' and wind up in this same situation six months from now."

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meeting in a special session on the matter on Monday, July 29, starting at 3 p.m. at the supervisors meeting room in the county government building at 854 Hwy. 90 in Bay St. Louis.

The meeting will be open to the public.

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