JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's mental health department will begin handing off some direct care workers to regional mental health centers as part of an effort to cut its budget and comply with a federal mandate.

The state personnel board on Thursday approved plans for the department to eliminate 53 positions at Ellisville State School. Only 40 of those slots are currently filled by employees, the board said.

Mental health department spokesman Adam Moore said Friday that most of the workers will transfer to Pine Belt Mental Health Resources, a Hattiesburg-based nonprofit that serves people in nine south Mississippi counties. The department plans to cut up to 650 positions this year because of state budget cuts. It won permission to lay off 125 workers elsewhere in June.

Some lawmakers and advocates have been pushing the department to provide more community services and rely less on housing people at institutions. This change, though, only deals with people already living in community settings.

The federal government has mandated that mental health case managers must be separate from service providers they oversee by the end of 2018, Moore said. That means the department will no longer directly provide services to people living in community settings, in order to guarantee that federal funding to those programs continues. Moore said the changes shouldn't affect services that people now receive.

Moore said similar handoffs to regional mental health agencies are being negotiated for four other facilities that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They include Boswell Regional Center in Magee, Hudspeth Regional Center in Whitfield, North Mississippi Regional Center in Oxford and South Mississippi Regional Center in Long Beach.

Moore couldn't say how many workers at those four locations would be affected, although he said Ellisville is the largest of the five institutions serving people with intellectual disabilities.

The personnel board has approved 300 layoffs since May tied to budget cuts. Lawmakers passed a state spending plan for the year beginning July 1 that was 9 percent lower than what they originally budgeted for the year ended June 30.

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