State uses corporate donations for mental-health project

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ATLANTA -- A two-year test program to provide intensive help for 100 people in Southeast Georgia with mental illness or who haven’t fully developed mentally is relying on contributions from a pair of national companies.

Sixty patients will be from Chatham County, 20 from Glynn and the balance from Bullock, Ware and Coffee counties.

Monday, the various groups held a brief ceremony in the Capitol to cement their partnership.

“This comes at an especially critical time because the state has a severe budget crisis,” said Sen. Johnny Grant, chairman of the Legislative Behavioral Health Caucus. “If it were left to the state, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and CSX Corporation donated the money that is being used by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, Emory University School of Medicine and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for a project called Opening Doors to Recovery.

The pilot program aims to help people who have been on a cycle of arrests, institutional treatment, out-patient treatment, homelessness, lack of treatment and more arrests.

For the past year, meetings between mayors, doctors, advocates, preachers and law enforcement has focused on what prevents these people from maintaining their mental health. The balance of the project will seek to address those hurdles through what experts call aggressive case management.

What’s learned could be translated to the rest of the state, according to organizers.

Part of the money will go toward paying for their transportation to treatment since they often wind up getting arrested when they have missed appointments.

Part of the money will provide training to law enforcement officers, from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to local deputy sheriffs and even railroad inspectors. It will help them recognize signs of mental illness so people they find wandering or acting strangely can be steered toward treatment rather than jail.

“Helping NAMI is just another part of the responsibility we believe we have to the public,” said Craig Camuso, lobbyist for CSX.


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