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Serenity Behavioral Health cuts juvenile program

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The juvenile program in Augusta's community mental health facility that provided low- and no-cost mental health services to more than 900 children is being downsized to treat only the most severe cases.

Officials at Child and Adolescent Services at Serenity Behavioral Health Systems are referring hundreds of patients to private mental health professionals.

With few licensed psychiatrists and fewer mental health professionals who accept Medicaid, those who depended on its services are feeling the cut.

"We are doing our very best to hook up (patients) with another provider, but the challenge is the appointments are so far in the future it's very difficult to make those linkages," Serenity CEO Charles Williamson said.

Serenity will continue treating children with severe mental illness but will no longer be available to most of the public. In the past, the facility would have seen one child for every adult client, but it will now be reduced to one child for every six adults, Williamson said.

Child and Adolescent Services lost its funding from the state in 2008 but continued functioning for two years until October, when the burden became too heavy, Williamson said.

"We waited as long as we could, and it started to hurt us so bad financially we said, 'OK, let's focus on what we're getting paid for, which is the adult population,' " Williamson said.

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities provided Serenity with $1.2 million of funding in 2006. That support decreased to $569,000 in 2007 and was eliminated in 2008.

Children in families who were underinsured or uninsured used Serenity's services of family and individual counseling and inpatient care.

It was often a resource for judges sentencing children with mental health issues in Juvenile Court and an alternative to incarceration in the Augusta Youth Development Campus, said Juvenile Court Judge Jennifer McKinzie.

During the Nov. 10 status hearing of a juvenile who attacked a pregnant Collins Elementary School teacher this year and caused her to lose her baby, McKinzie said she was devastated that Serenity's services were no longer a resource for him.

The child's parents begged for inpatient treatment but were without options after Serenity's downsizing.

Laura Miller, a dental hygienist in Augusta, said that without Serenity she has to drive three hours to Inner Harbor in Douglasville, Ga., to get inpatient treatment for her 12-year-old daughter.

After her daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during the summer, she received a week of inpatient care at Serenity.

Later, when the girl's behavior got worse and she needed long-term care, the safe haven of Serenity disappeared and she was checked into YDC for one month.

"There's just not enough help for children in the area," Miller said. "A lot of the kids in YDC, they're not bad children. They need mental help."

When she returned home, her daughter became violent against Miller and the family's cats and showed behavioral problems that Miller couldn't control.

Miller took on a third job to afford treatment at Augusta's Transitional Family Services because her ex-husband's insurance would not cover their daughter's mental health services.

When her daughter became covered by Medicaid, the inpatient center in Douglasville was the family's only option.

"It's a sad situation," Miller said. "I just really hate it that this is happening where they have closed (Serenity) because there's so many children that need this in the area. It's so sad."

Dr. L. "Mike" Daniels, an Augusta psychologist, said private mental health facilities were already overwhelmed with clients before Serenity's downsizing.

In addition to his private practice, he joined Stillwater Counseling this month to help with their overflow of patients, which he said he is sure will now worsen.

"They are absolutely overwhelmed," Daniels said of Stillwater. "We have more kids than we know what to do with, and there's nobody else to see them."

For some children, sitting on a waiting list to see a professional is not an option.

Many families who used Serenity's services can't afford the alternative of private practices, Daniels said.

Those restrictions can partially be blamed on the care management organizations the state contracted in 2006, which manage Medicaid and authorize treatments, said Serenity's clinical director, Michelle Carnes.

"I guess these care management organizations are trying to save the state money," Carnes said. "They've made that process very difficult, and they don't always approve of the services the child may need."

Richmond County Juvenile Court Judge Ben Allen said children who don't have access to mental health services often act out. He sees them bypass treatment and end up incarcerated instead.

"We've got to find a better way to serve our youth population," Allen said. "(Incarceration) is not the proper way to treat mental illness. I'm hoping I don't have to make that kind of choice."

Daniels said he sees the effects of state budget reductions for mental health services too often in his office.

"Fewer and fewer resources are given to the treatment of the mentally ill, both children and adults," he said. "The money is just drying up. Unless we have a change in governmental thought process, we're going to have to start looking ... at charitable giving.

"These are our new mental health treatment facilities: the jails and juvenile detention centers."

The impact

 

Serenity Behavioral Health Systems will continue treating children with severe mental illness, but hundreds of others will be referred to private mental health providers. Families who used Serenity will be unable to afford services from private professionals, many of whom have waiting lists for appointments. "These are our new mental health treatment facilities: the jails and juvenile detention centers," said Dr. L. "Mike" Daniels, an Augusta psychologist.

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charliemanson
1
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charliemanson 11/20/10 - 06:30 am
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"They're not bad children.

"They're not bad children. They need mental help."
-------------------------
Ms. Manson said the same thing about her son, Charles.

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 11/20/10 - 07:52 am
0
0
Same ole, same ole. Children

Same ole, same ole. Children don't vote so they're the first to be cut from government social services. In the meantime, we continue to pay perfectly healthy people to not work, to produce babies that will also grow up on the government roll or become prisoners and live on the government roll.
People who actually need subsidy help are excluded. It's the politically correct way to pervert the system.
Since obamacare is going to further reduce the recompense to doctors and facilities, I guess the courts, prisons and streets will be the only place left for these children to get "help".

Cadence
219
Points
Cadence 11/20/10 - 08:45 am
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0
This is such a shame. And why

This is such a shame. And why are so many children having such severe problems?

Abby-noll
0
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Abby-noll 11/20/10 - 09:25 am
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"Fewer and fewer resources

"Fewer and fewer resources are given to the treatment of the mentally ill, both children and adults," he said. "The money is just drying up. Unless we have a change in governmental thought process, we're going to have to start looking ... at charitable giving.

And why didn't you look into charitable giving before you decided to close down a much needed facility? There are MANY grants given out for Children's Mental Health services each year through various organizations. Also, people have a tendency to give when you do fundraisers... tax deductions and all that.

The rate Medicaid pays for mental health care is outrageous, and it doesn't take a lot to get certified as a Medicaid provider. A 4 year degree is all that's required. To become an LMH or LCSW takes approx. 6 years and 2 years internship.So... my question is why aren't you hiring people to care for these clients that are qualified to care for them? If they were qualified, they would be Medicaid qualified.

faithson
5158
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faithson 11/20/10 - 11:06 am
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cut your nose off to spite

cut your nose off to spite your face... johnson makes a good point on putting priorities on spending, here is a place where a real difference can be made. an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

freespeach
4
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freespeach 11/20/10 - 11:54 am
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Don't be fooled! The
Unpublished

Don't be fooled! The overwhelming majority of kids served are covered by Medicaid. The real problem here is mismanagement.

Patty-P
3516
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Patty-P 11/20/10 - 12:08 pm
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0
Augusta, Augusta,

Augusta, Augusta, Augusta....always a problem. Never a solution.

Little Lamb
45962
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Little Lamb 11/20/10 - 12:29 pm
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0
Thank you for some crucial

Thank you for some crucial information, freespeach. The article leaves out so much that it is hard for a logical thinking person to discern much from the article. I will say that Dr. L. "Mike" Daniels made an irresponsible comment when he said:

"These are our new mental health treatment facilities: the jails and juvenile detention centers," said Dr. L. "Mike" Daniels, an Augusta psychologist.

In the first place, jails and juvenile detention centers are not new and they have always housed people with one mental problem or another. In the second place, Daniels made that statement merely to inflame the public, not to help the situation.

mable8
2
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mable8 11/20/10 - 01:43 pm
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0
Yet another fiasco by the

Yet another fiasco by the professionals who consider themselves to be psychologists and psychiatrists. The fact remains that these professionals have never recognized the reality that our correctional departments are NOT havens or appropriate places for the mentally ill patient, regardless of age. Turning our prisons and YDCs into mental hospitals is certainly not the answer and speaks of the ignorance that profession's education perpetuates. By shutting down mental health facilities geared specifically to treat the mentally ill for both in-patient and out-patient treatment needs, this profession has over-taxed our law enforcement personnel and created a great deal of social damage. The only "help" that I see is how much can a family fatten the professional's wallet--psychologists need to quit calling themselves a helping profession because when they perceive a lack of funds, it is time--according to their reckoning--to shut the doors. There isn't any help to the job, just money.

freespeach
4
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freespeach 11/20/10 - 04:22 pm
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Tracy McManus should do some
Unpublished

Tracy McManus should do some more investigation and ask more questions. How many kids are they turning away who are in fact covered by Medicaid? Why did state government close their children's inpatient program? Were funds given not used to treat children like it was supposed to? Are they serving adults as they should? Has state government reduced their money because they aren't serving adults like they should either? What is the amount of raises the top administrators have received in the past several years as programs continually get cut and lower staff go on furloughs? Why does state government continue to fund such a poorly run organization?

BH90201
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BH90201 11/20/10 - 08:48 pm
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Abby-noll, You said, "The

Abby-noll, You said, "The rate Medicaid pays for mental health care is outrageous, and it doesn't take a lot to get certified as a Medicaid provider. A 4 year degree is all that's required. To become an LMH or LCSW takes approx. 6 years and 2 years internship.So... my question is why aren't you hiring people to care for these clients that are qualified to care for them? If they were qualified, they would be Medicaid qualified."

Seriously. A 4 year degree is all that is required to become a Medicaid provider? Where did you get a ridiculous idea like that? Obviously you have no real knowledge of the requirements whatsoever so perhaps you shouldn't comment on that which you know nothing about.

gaspringwater
3
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gaspringwater 11/20/10 - 11:31 pm
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0
Our state priorities are a

Our state priorities are a mess. The legislature exempted retirees from state income tax and turns away mentally ill children. Another Republican plan.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

May 12-- Governor Sonny Perdue today announced that he has signed House Bill 1055, a bill that eliminates taxes on retirement income for senior citizens and eliminates the state portion of homeowner’s property taxes.

Little Lamb
45962
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Little Lamb 11/20/10 - 11:44 pm
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It makes sense, Gas Spring.

It makes sense, Gas Spring. Senior citizens should not have to pay income taxes to pay for somebody else's mentally ill child. People need to pay for their own children's medical needs, not ask others to pay for them.

Abby-noll
0
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Abby-noll 11/21/10 - 09:05 am
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Seriously. A 4 year degree is

Seriously. A 4 year degree is all that is required to become a Medicaid provider? Where did you get a ridiculous idea like that? Obviously you have no real knowledge of the requirements whatsoever so perhaps you shouldn't comment on that which you know nothing about.

BHS... I know things may have changed in 3 years, but as of 3 years ago I was responsible for getting people certified through Medicaid. Then, it required a bachelor degree only. The only reason we needed the licensed mental health workers (LCSW, LMHC) was for private insurance. Granted, the rate paid for non-licensed mental health workers was slightly less than licensed employees. Don't accuse someone of not knowing what they're talking about when you don't know them.

BH90201
0
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BH90201 11/21/10 - 01:58 pm
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Abby, So if you know "things

Abby, So if you know "things may have changed in 3 years," then why post what you declared as a fact - as if today things are the way they were 3 years ago? That's all I'm saying. I make referrals to a local Medicaid provider and have done so since 2007. Never have I known of a provider having a Bachelor's level staff member provide therapy to clients. APS will allow a Masters level therapist to see clients, but even then, we are talking about therapists under supervision and on track for licensure. Amerigroup requires a fully licensed therapist and Magellan/Wellcare requires the therapist at least be a licensed associate professional counselor (and also on track for full licensure). As things continue to change it should be no time that APS will require licensed professionals as well. And while the Medicaid reimbursement rate may be high for some services, rest assured the therapists receive only a small portion of that since the companies they work for absorb the majority of it. I don't know of any individuals in town who provide Medicaid services - only private companies and very few of them. Mental health is all corporate now - unfortunately, it's less about the well being of the people in need and ALL about money. There is a service (called CSI for Community Support Individual) that allows a Bachelor's level staff person work with the child or adult, but not providing therapy - CSI is a service in which the child is assisted in learning skills to manage their behavior.

eam526
0
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eam526 11/22/10 - 04:12 pm
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This is not just a problem in

This is not just a problem in Georgia, it is nationwide. The Fed's are cutting money, therefore the states get less money. It is not incompetence in delivery of services, it is no money. The state funneled funds that went to Mental Health to the private sector. The private sector agencies are many in number and that takes away some of the streamling of services. Many people from the same pie leads to inadequate funding for all and none for public mental health.

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