MCG takes over local mental health hospitals

Peter Buckley has seen it before — a medical school steps in with a struggling psychiatric hospital and turns it around in a few years. Now Dr. Buckley, the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Medical College of Georgia, is hoping for similar success with East Central Georgia Regional Hospital in Augusta and Gracewood.


The school and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities announced a partnership Thursday that will allow MCG School of Medicine to take over administration of the 585-bed hospitals that occupy two campuses. Not only will staff not lose their jobs but the move will actually result in MCG hiring staff for positions that the state has struggled to fill, said Commissioner Frank Shelp.

“This will enhance our job attractiveness,” he said, in an institution that is now severely understaffed. It will also allow MCG residents and two new forensic fellows, to rotate through the facilities, enhancing care for patients and families, and providing new energy for the staff to connect with, Dr. Shelp said.

“I think everyone is excited about it,” said Registered Nurse Lois Gulley, who said she is looking forward to “teaching and learning.”

It also might help the state meet the expectations of the U.S. Department of Justice, which has deemed a previous state-submitted plan to improve care in state mental hospitals as inadequate, Dr. Shelp said. Almost all of the $2 million cost of making the transition will be borne by moving around existing hospital revenues.

“In terms of finances, it is really revenue-neutral,” Dr. Shelp said.

Prior to coming to MCG, Dr. Buckley said he was with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, which partnered with a troubled psychiatric hospital also facing legal trouble and in seven years turned it into one voted best in Ohio by a national advocacy group. Dr. Shelp also praised his experience at Duke University Medical Center in establishing a relationship with a state mental health hospital in North Carolina.


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