The last two columns have dealt with Georgia’s efforts to comply with an agreement signed with the U.S. Department of Justice some three years ago as a result of a federal lawsuit.
A complete revamping of services has been undertaken and the state has invested some $124.6 million in additional funding over the past four budgets. This is significant since, for most of that time, Georgia was reducing its budget to meet revenue reductions, so putting additional funds into any area was painful.
The Department of Behavioral Health has established a system of locally based services that should respond to both crises and to everyday needs of the disabled and mentally ill. The previous columns listed and elaborated on those services.
This week, in the final segment, evaluation and compliance with the agreement will be examined for how the process works and how the state is progressing.
The settlement requires the state to meet highly-specific guidelines in order to be considered compliant with the agreement terms. An independent reviewer from Washington, D.C., issues an annual report of compliance to the U.S. DOJ. The reviewer consults with DBHDD throughout the process and provides opportunities for remediation as necessary.
Several questions are answered throughout the review such as: Are the services customized according to the individual’s strengths and needs? Are appropriate supports in place? Is there substantial community integration?
In order to be found in total compliance, by July 1, 2015, Georgia must meet requirements for 24 provisions that are listed in the settlement. As of today, the state is on track to meeting these targets.
For example, last year DBHDD helped 164 individuals with developmental disabilities transition from hospitals to homes within their communities. The families of 2,248 individuals across the state received a wide variety of family supports ranging from monetary aids to respite services.
Georgia has been a national leader in peer support services and continues to see the positive influence that peer support can have on helping individuals’ recovery.
As of today, more than 3,000 people with mental illness are now enrolled in peer support services with 72 peer support sites across the state. Housing and employment opportunities are also crucial to achieve the mission of helping people stay in their communities.
By the end of the July, 800 housing vouchers will be dispersed and 440 individuals will have received supported employment services. Crisis response is also an area that demands attention across the state; thus Georgia has established 12 mobile crisis teams that respond to more than 800 calls per year.
Additionally, 11 crisis respite homes are available to support individuals during a behavioral crisis. The scope of the services offered allows individuals throughout the state — whether they reside in a rural county in south Georgia, metro Atlanta, or the mountains of north Georgia — to receive a variety of services and a quality continuum of care.
In order to provide these services throughout Georgia, additional funds were needed in the department’s budget. For example, in the FY2014 budget, more than $33 million were added in order to maintain compliance with the settlement agreement services.
Although we remain in difficult economic times, Georgia is committed to serving this population in the best possible way.
As a new free-standing department, the Department of Behavioral Health is able to both focus on its main mission and respond to ongoing changes in the needs of developmentally disabled and mentally ill citizens around the state. Hopefully, there is a day coming when Georgia will be considered a leader nationally in their treatment and advocacy.
For more information on the settlement agreement and how Georgia is improving access to services for individuals, visit the department’s Web site: http://dbhdd.georgia.gov.
I may be reached at
234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334
(404) 656-5038 (phone)
(404) 657-7094 (fax)
E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
Or call toll-free at
1-800-367-3334 day or night
Reidsville office: (912) 557-3811