Bid issues won't halt changes

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The state of Georgia withdrew a request for bids to privatize part of its mental health services when no qualified bidder showed up, but the state has not backed off a plan to privatize much of the system and change its regional hospitals in favor of enhanced community services, officials said Wednesday.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources withdrew its bid request for consolidating and privatizing forensic mental health services when the lone bidder didn't meet the experience and reference requirements, Commissioner B.J. Walker said.

The state will look at tweaking that proposal over the next several weeks and reissue the request around March or April, she said.

"We need to evaluate whether or not we had a reasonable standard on the table for the experience," Mrs. Walker said. "Did it deter some people from bidding, and also, was it a reasonable standard?"

A request for bids to privatize much of Atlanta Regional Hospital is still pending. Work on increasing community-based services in Columbus and Savannah will continue, said Gwen Skinner, the department's director of Mental Health, Development Disabilities and Addictive Diseases.

"Columbus and Savannah (hospitals) are being reconfigured to look more like a behavioral health center, where you have an array of services or a variety of services there," she said.

For instance, 24 hospital beds in Savannah have been converted into a crisis stabilization unit, designed for shorter-term intensive treatment to stabilize patients and then return them to community services. Mrs. Walker likened the process to reshaping a home.

"You've converted what was a bungalow into this McMansion," she said. "It looks different, it feels different, it operates different. But the bungalow didn't go away; you just converted its capacity and its resources into this new system."

That process in Columbus and Savannah should be complete by June, Mrs. Walker said.

Under the state's four-year "game plan," East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta wasn't scheduled to be converted until 2012. The state will consolidate all of its inpatient services for the developmentally disabled into 250 beds at the Gracewood campus.

That move alarmed some parents of long-term patients there, who fear their child would not survive in a community setting.

Mrs. Walker said she had heard concerns from legislators and others.

"We expect people to have concerns about the plan because we're venturing, for Georgia, into new territory, and we should venture carefully," Mrs. Walker said. "And we should ask a lot of questions and we should make sure that those questions are being answered. And that, if there is a part of the plan that we don't think will actually be viable, we should not be afraid of stepping away from it because we are in a challenging situation right now."

It is that challenge -- having to improve quality in the face of shrinking funding -- that is driving this, Mrs. Walker said.

"We're trying to make sure that we do the best thing we have with the resources we have that really is the best services for people with mental illness," she said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or

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patriciathomas 02/05/09 - 06:31 am
I'm always an advocate for

I'm always an advocate for the government to GET OUT of the medical business and all things related so the free market can work FOR the people in general. However, that concept only works when there is a profit to compete for. This isn't the case with the mentally ill. Too often, these are the people that make up our homeless legions and fill a large portion of our jails. These are people that find it impossible to exist, for the most part, within a society. "Promote the general welfare" comes into play here. The mentally ill need help and protection and the society in general need protection from the mentally ill. I don't think this is a case for privatization. Almost ALL of the other medical issues are, but not this one.

wallerstein 02/05/09 - 08:35 am
The free market has not done

The free market has not done well by the user of standard medical care who has to pay for theire own coverage. Every year premiums go up, deductibles increase, and services decrease. Profits are being made, certainly, but the customer is not benefiting.

ghughes51 02/05/09 - 10:39 am
Please don't equate

Please don't equate performance with profit. Sure some company can make a profit caring for the mentally ill but will the performance factor be there? Remember the AJC did a series of articles about the high number of deaths at the Atlanta facility and that triggered a Justice Dept probe and lawsuit. Are there other reasons for the change?

juliab1 02/05/09 - 02:46 pm
Walker is slick. Sheldon Kopp

Walker is slick. Sheldon Kopp wrote about one of the major truths which is -the truth is that there is no truth- She eakes a bit of the truth and bends it to be what she wants. This is historically called a mistruth. Go figure and then sort it out if you can. jb1

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