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Mental health professionals say Georgia care needs more improvement

Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 5:52 PM
Last updated Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 1:34 AM
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Mental health services in Georgia are improving, but more needs to be done, speakers said Tuesday at a regional conference in Augusta.

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The meeting on mental health services discussed changes in Georgia since a 2010 settlement with the federal government.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
The meeting on mental health services discussed changes in Georgia since a 2010 settlement with the federal government.

Area professionals discussed the future of services in Georgia, primarily the improvements stemming from a 2010 settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and the state that directed officials to provide more community-based services for the mentally ill.

Frank Berry, the commissioner of the Department of Be­havioral Health and De­vel­op­mental Disabilities, said that since the settlement, the differences in conditions in state mental hospitals and services provided in communities are “night and day.” Despite progress, however, he said the department still faces challenges in funding and the ability to serve children.

“What I want (legislators) to see is we have an incredible, incredible, high-quality provider network that when given the opportunity to do more, we’ll do more,” Berry said.

Georgia was sued after a series of articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed dozens of patients died while in the care of state mental hospitals and that community-based services were lacking.

Eric Spencer, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Georgia, said progress has been made but that the state is still struggling with transportation funding for patients, and how to allocate funding for housing.

Parts of the settlement require officials to place no more than 50 percent of qualified patients in congregate public housing with other patients. However, much of Depart­ment of Housing and Ear­ly De­velopment funding is allocated for building such housing.

The department is also challenged in paying for child and adolescent mental health care.

“The Department of Cor­rec­tions is the largest provider of child mental health care in the state, and that’s upside down,” Spencer said.

In Augusta, Serenity Be­ha­vio­ral Health Systems is working to make up for the $1.2 million loss of state funding for child and adolescent services that was cut in 2008.

The program now serves about 200 juveniles, 60 of which Serenity does not receive payment for, compared with about 900 in 2010.

Serenity CEO Charles Williamson said it has received a $2 million cut in state funding in the past four years, which has been balanced with reducing the workforce from 400 employees to 238.

While most centers such as Serenity receive about 6 percent of their budgets from county contributions, Augusta-Richmond County contributes 0.1 percent a year, or $7,000, to Serenity. Williamson said the county did provide the property for the center at no cost, but that creates a budget problem when repairs are needed.

“I think you’ve got, since the DOJ settlement, a more concerted effort across the state to meet the needs of the people in behavioral health, but the great void of course that we see is ‘What do we do with kids?’” Williamson said.

Thomas Bornemann, the director of the Carter Center Mental Health Program, said that while the state has a shortage of about 422 mental health professionals, progress is being made.

The state has expanded homeless, housing and employment services along with crisis stabilization centers, and it continues to work with legislators about allocating more money for continued programs.

As far as solutions, “there is no silver bullet or one size fits all,” Bornemann said.

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TruthJusticeFaithHope 12/19/12 - 06:11 am
Not going to happen...

The State of Georgia wastes huge amounts of money creating bureaucracies which present an image of helping. Look at the Department of Juvenile Justice, Division of Family and Children's Services... and all of the Department of Human Services. Hundreds of Millions of dollars each year... and very few direct services to clients in our communities throughout Georgia. They are working very hard.... very, very hard to keep their administrative jobs... just not very hard to help the clients and communities.

gdt 12/19/12 - 07:14 am
There is Hope

The Mental Health system in this country is seriously broke. It is estimated that 6% (1 in 17) of American adults suffer from serious mental illness. More than 4 million of our children also suffer mental illness. Studies show 20% (1 in 5) of our American families is impacted by mental illness. I know as I am one of those families. I have learned that our mental health system is a horrifying horrendous maze which is extremely difficult to navigate to obtain any meaningful help. What about all the families trying to navigate this horrible maze? It drains them physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. Families experience feelings of frustration, fear, guilt, denial, loss, isolation, sadness and loss of hope. How can families deal with such tremendous suffering? I can tell you from personal experience how families react to the crisis of mental illness does affect the family member’s recovery. The only way to deal with all this is to know peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding that will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7). To that end that is why I am trying to get “There Is Hope Ministries” up and running. I want families of people with mental illness to know they are not alone as nothing can separate us from the love of God. There is hope!

itsanotherday1 12/19/12 - 11:44 am
In light of recent mass

In light of recent mass killings by disturbed individuals, maybe we will take mental health issues and treatment more seriously.

Bulldog 12/19/12 - 03:10 pm
Current Laws are an issue

Current laws make meaningful treament difficult to get and additionally prevent knowledge of that information from being used to prevent the purchase of things like firearms. There are plenty of people out there who will pass a background check because there is no official record of their mental issues. I would not trust then with a rifle, chain saw or hammer.

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