A state agency Wednesday announced that its psychiatric hospital in Thomasville will close by the end of the year.
The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities told GHN that Southwestern State Hospital currently has a patient census of 116, divided between people with mental illness and development disabilities, and those housed in the facility’s forensic unit.
The closing of the hospital continues the revamping of the state’s services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities in the wake of Georgia’s landmark 2010 agreement with U.S. Department of Justice, which aims to move people from mental hospitals into community living situations.
Since then, the state DBHDD has closed its mental hospital in Rome and downsized services at its historic Milledgeville facility.
About 600 employees work at the Thomasville hospital. A DBHDD spokesman, Matt Carrothers, said the workers can apply for open state jobs and similar positions newly created by private providers, and can receive services such as GED preparation and testing, workforce training, and employment assistance.
The mental health patients at Southwestern State will be served in various facilities located across the southwestern region of Georgia, and those with more acute needs will be served in an alternate psychiatric hospital, state officials said.
In addition, the state agency said it will increase the mental health services in the region, including Behavioral Health Crisis Centers, Crisis Stabilization Units and Intensive Case Management Teams.
“I’m always supportive [of the closing] of state hospitals because I believe that where people recover and maintain wellness is in the community,’’ Sherry Jenkins Tucker of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network told GHN. “It’s an opportunity to free up resources to enhance our continuum of care and create more and better community-based services for people.’’
Carrothers of DBHDD said patients in the Southwestern State forensic unit — those under court jurisdiction — will be transferred to the state forensic facility in Columbus.
Those with developmental disabilities will be moved to community-based services, most of them in group homes.
The state has reduced the hospital population of people with developmental disabilities from roughly 1,000 to 342 currently. But DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry last week said he is imposing a 45-day delay in moving people with disabilities out of the hospitals. He cited concerns about quality of care.
The DOJ accord — hailed by consumer advocates as a model for other states — aims to increase community services across the state, including housing, crisis teams and stabilization units, so people with disabilities can avoid the need for hospitalization.
At a Carter Center forum last week, Berry spoke of the difficulty of telling parents when disabled people are to be moved into the community, with support services, after living for decades in a hospital. Parents often want their disabled offspring to remain in the institution they’ve known for so long, he said.
He also spoke of the difficulty of telling employees of state-operated hospitals that they may be losing their jobs due to the changes, but that the state needs them to stay on until that happens.
Eric Spencer, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told GHN that his organization’s hope is that sufficient services will be in place prior to the Dec. 31 Thomasville closure. Spencer said that with the facility closures in Rome and Milledgeville, many individuals wound up without services or in jails.
Any savings from the closure should go to strengthen community services in southwest Georgia, Spencer added.