Originally created 05/25/05

Old hospital building will house crisis unit



An Augusta mental health center will run a crisis stabilization unit in the former Georgia Regional Hospital building, despite some reservations expressed by its physicians.

The board of the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia voted to set up the 16-bed unit, which would provide care for those in short-term psychiatric crisis who don't need to be in a hospital.

The center had earlier rebuffed a state offer to create and run the unit because it felt it would lose money and it would be difficult to staff a round-the-clock unit.

A psychiatrist and nurse manager would be hired to run the unit, and a pool of psychiatrists, possibly from Medical College of Georgia, would be on call if needed, CEO Chuck Williamson said. The center's staff could voluntarily take extra shifts at the unit, which would add to the continuity of care for the patients, clinical director Michelle Carnes said.

"We also strongly believe that nobody can take care of our clients better than ourselves," she said.

East Central Regional Hospital, which is being consolidated to its Gracewood campus, could provide support services such as laundry and backup security.

The crisis unit is a needed option as state hospitals downsize, Mrs. Carnes said.

East Central would assess the patients first, and medical director Phil Horton expressed concern that someone other than a psychiatrist would do the screening, although East Central Chief Operating Officer Ben Walker said most of its doctors are psychiatrists.

Child and adolescent psychologist Lori Schwam said she worried about the liability from running the unit.

"I'm scared that we're jumping into something over our heads, certainly over my head, and that we could end up losing it all because of it," Dr. Schwam said.

But most board members said the center administration had answered its earlier concerns.

"I feel a lot more comfortable with it now than I did," board member Ralph Herndon said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

A name game

What's in a name? About $200, at least to one formerly troubled mental health center. The former administrator of the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia was convicted of defrauding the center earlier this month, and the new administration wants a new name to reflect its fresh start. The center is offering gift certificates to Augusta Mall for the best ideas that reflect a new beginning for the center. First place is $200, second place is $100, and third place is $50. Send your submissions to: CMHC, Attention: Yvonne Lewis, 3421 Mike Padgett Highway, Augusta, GA 30906-3815, or e-mail: yalewis@cmhc.usCenter officials said they would take submissions for about 30 days.