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Progress on mental health, but gaps remain

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter said Friday that she has concerns about how Georgia’s restructuring of its Medicaid program will affect the state’s revamped mental health system.

Mrs. Carter also noted that while the state’s 2010 agreement with the Department of Justice to improve Georgia’s mental health system is ‘’a good settlement,’’ it fails to address the needs of children and adolescents.

A longtime advocate for people with mental illness, Mrs. Carter spoke to journalists at a media briefing at the Carter Center in Atlanta during the annual Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum.

A state official, meanwhile, pointed to data to show the Justice Department settlement has led to improvements.

The patient readmission rate to psychiatric hospitals within 30 days – historically high in Georgia – has dropped from 13.4 percent prior to the settlement to a current figure of 7.7 percent, said Dr. Frank Shelp, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

The state’s hospital patient census has also declined, Shelp added.  And in the northwest region of Georgia, where a state psychiatric hospital has been closed, more people at risk of hospitalization have received mental health services for a lesser amount of money, Shelp said. full story

Provider pay cuts provoke fierce opposition

Pat Ellis held hands with her son John while waiting to get into an already packed state board room Thursday.

The Ellises traveled from Commerce to Atlanta to attend a hearing that focused on proposed state cuts in payments for certain residential and day programs for the developmentally disabled.

John Ellis, 39, who has Down syndrome, has been going to Jackson Creative, a service center for people with disabilities, for 18 years. Four to five days a week, John does activities ranging from community volunteer work, including folding church bulletins, to attending music therapy at the University of Georgia.

“If the rates are reduced, [John’s] days will be cut down, and the quality of services will be cut down,’’ Pat Ellis said. “It’s such an important part of his day.’’

The Ellises were part of a huge crowd of people with disabilities, family members, consumer advocates and service providers who attended the three-hour hearing. The atmosphere at the event was often emotional.

The proposed rate changes are being considered by the board of the Department of Community Health, which runs Medicaid in the state.

The revisions were proposed after the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services required Georgia to review its rates under ‘‘waiver’’ services for thousands of people with developmental disabilities. full story

Transit call center may connect many to care

Next year, a multibillion-dollar transportation referendum will go before voters in 10 metro Atlanta counties. So far, the hotly debated items on the project list involve improvements in rail, road and bus service.

But also on the list — though drawing considerably less media attention — is a $17 million call center to help seniors and people with disabilities get around more easily.

The basic idea is a one-stop-shop to help people plan their trips when they have few if any transportation options.

The center would help callers with scheduling, dispatching and trip booking, helping to ease travel for hundreds of thousands of people. Call center workers could arrange the transportation or connect the caller with options such as mass transit, voucher programs or volunteer rides.

Janie Walker, an associate state director of AARP Georgia, said Thursday that 80 percent of the calls that the center takes would probably be related to medical appointments.

An Atlanta Regional Commission official says the center would build on current transportation initiatives, and would also focus on low-income residents. full story

Report notes progress on mental health pact

The state has made significant progress toward meeting the goals of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, an independent report says.

But the Oct. 5 report, by independent reviewer Elizabeth Jones, is critical of some community services and help provided to people with disabilities. It cites health care problems, a lack of day programs, and unsafe medication practices.

Jones was appointed to track the progress of the state in meeting its obligations under the five-year landmark agreement with the Justice Department. She will give such reports annually.

The state “has demonstrated good faith and commitment in its implementation of the Year One obligations,’’ the report says. full story

Ga. scores low on seniors’, disabled services

A new report ranks Georgia 42nd in the nation for long-term care services for older people and adults with disabilities.

The report — produced by AARP, the Commonwealth Fund and The Scan Foundation — ranked the states and the District of Columbia in 25 categories, including hospitalization of nursing home residents, percentage of patients getting home and community-based services, and the cost of nursing homes.

The rankings follow several other health care measurements that have put the Peach State in the lower half of states.

The study aims for the first time to measure the availability of accessible, affordable and quality long-term services to the elderly and disabled — as well as support for caregivers — in each state, Kaiser Health News reported.

Georgia’s score lagged because of low rankings on measures such as percent of caregivers who usually or always get needed support (47th); the number of people with disabilities allowed by the state to direct their own services (41st); and the number of home health and personal care aides (45th). full story

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