Georgia health officials acknowledge that they won’t meet a June 30 deadline — agreed to with the federal government — for moving people with developmental disabilities out of state-run hospitals.
Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said at an agency board meeting Thursday that the state will move people from hospitals as soon as community services of sufficient quality are available.
For now, he said, 260 Georgians with disabilities remain in state hospitals.
Georgia, under its five-year settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreed to end all admissions of people with developmental disabilities to state psychiatric hospitals. It also promised in the 2010 pact that patients with disabilities already in those hospitals would be moved to more appropriate settings by July 2015.
“We will not meet the deadline,’’ Berry said Thursday.
The groundbreaking settlement agreement also sought to improve care for Georgians with mental illness.
Under the terms of the pact, Georgia agreed to establish community services for about 9,000 people with mental illness, and to create community support and crisis intervention teams to help people with developmental disabilities and mental illness avoid hospitalization.
The state’s overall progress on the settlement agreement has been “pretty impressive,’’ Berry told the agency board.
Still, an independent reviewer of the state’s progress, while praising Georgia’s work for people with mental illness, last year judged it to be “out of compliance’’ in its efforts for people with developmental disabilities.
Problems involved in the care delivered in the community living situations led DBHDD last year to stop transferring people with developmental disabilities from hospitals to community residences.
Media outlets reported last summer that almost 10 percent of the 480 Georgians with developmental disabilities who have moved out of state hospitals since July 2010 have died after being placed in community situations.
The state has apparently lifted its moratorium on transfers, because Berry said Thursday that two people with disabilities were moved out of hospitals in December. “They are doing exceptionally well,’’ he said.
DBHDD officials said Friday that many individuals remaining in hospitals “require intensive medical and/or behavioral services that are difficult to provide in a community setting.”
“We are continually expanding community-based capacity to serve these needs,’’ DBHDD spokesman Chris Bailey told Georgia Health News in an email. “We will transition individuals into community settings that meet the unique needs and preferences of each person we serve. The health and safety of each individual is our highest priority.”
DBHDD added that the state has not made a formal request for an extension of the settlement agreement. And the agency said it’s premature to assess whether such an extension would require additional funds.
Georgia’s inability to complete the transfers on time did not surprise patient advocacy groups.
“We knew they weren’t going to meet the deadline,’’ said Eric Jacobson, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.
“Especially in places like Georgia, the community services really have to be improved so folks get what they need,’’ he said. “I would much rather them focus on good, quality community services and take a little longer, than rush people out and have them fail.”
Talley Wells, director of the Disability Integration Project at Atlanta Legal Aid, told GHN, said the state’s work on meeting the federal guidelines on mental health services has been good.
“The state made a huge investment that has transformed a lot of lives,’’ Wells said. He added that Georgia still needs to create more housing for people with serious and persistent mental illness.
On the developmental disabilities side, Wells said, “the state has a lot further to go. It’s going to take more time. It’s frustrating and disappointing.”
“It really is a tale of two settlements,’’ he added.
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