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Disabilities

Agency outlines spending to meet Justice pact

The state agency overseeing mental health and disabilities services is facing budget cuts, but it still plans to spend hefty amounts to meet the goals of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD) said it anticipates cuts of $6 million to $13 million this fiscal year, part of a 2 percent budget reduction for state agencies ordered by Gov. Nathan Deal due to the economic downturn.

But the agency also said it plans to spend $45 million on community services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities in the coming fiscal year, as part of the Justice agreement.

In that landmark 2010 accord, the state promised to establish community services, including supported housing, 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.

Georgia pledged to stop putting people with developmental disabilities in the state’s psychiatric hospitals, and it promised that all the developmentally disabled patients already in those hospitals would be out of them by July 2015.

The settlement and other related agreements seek to address longstanding problems in the state’s mental health and developmental disabilities system.

The BHDD budget, approved by its board Monday, includes funds for housing support or rental assistance to more than 1,000 people; additional crisis teams and case managers; and employment and family support programs. full story

Commentary: Funding cuts for disabled

Past cuts in funding for some Georgians with developmental disabilities have threatened their safety net, says a state organization that provides community services to these people.

Now the fear is that upcoming state rate changes may drive some service providers out of business, says Ralph Herndon, president of the Georgia Association of Community Service Boards.

“If providers are forced to close their doors, how will people with developmental disabilities have a meaningful life?’’ writes Herndon in a new GHN Commentary piece.

Here’s a link to Herndon’s Commentary.

Georgia Health News welcomes Commentary submissions. If you would like to propose a Commentary piece for Georgia Health News, please e-mail Andy Miller, editor of GHN, at amiller@georgiahealthnews.com

Deal names new Ga. disability ombudsman

After being vacant for almost 10 months, the job of state disability services ombudsman has been filled.

Corinna Magelund, who was an official in the administration of the previous governor, Sonny Perdue, has been appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to take over the ombudsman position.

Magelund most recently served at the Department of Community Affairs, where she worked closely with the Governor’s Office of Disability Services, according to a statement Friday from Deal’s office.

The disability services ombudsman fields complaints and promotes the rights of people with mental illness and those with developmental disabilities or addictions. The previous ombudsman, Jewel Norman, who left the position last August for health reasons, also supervised independent reviews of deaths of patients in state psychiatric hospitals.

Before Magelund’s appointment, consumer advocacy groups had been calling for months for the ombudsman job to be filled. They cited the major changes being implemented in the state’s mental health system.

Georgia has agreed to build community mental health services across the state, such as housing, crisis teams and stabilization units, as a result of a 2010 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. full story

Key post on disability services now vacant

Georgia’s plan to help institutionalized people with disabilities receive services has been stalled, consumer advocates say.

The man in charge of that disabilities plan has left the position, and no replacement has yet been named.

William Janes won praise from advocacy groups while serving as Georgia’s “Olmstead Coordinator’’ for about 16 months, until his departure earlier this month.

The coordinator’s job is to develop a state plan to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead ruling of 1999. The ruling, which came in a Georgia case, said states must provide appropriate services for the disabled in the most integrated setting possible. Unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities is a form of discrimination, the ruling said.

Janes was appointed to the position by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2009. In an interview, Janes said Gov. Nathan Deal, who took office early this year, did not reappoint him. Janes said his departure was not a resignation, but that without a reappointment by the governor, he felt he could not fulfill his duties.

Because he was not reappointed, Janes said, his status was diminished. “I couldn’t do the job,’’ he said. But Janes did not criticize Deal or his staff.

“Georgia needs an Olmstead coordinator now more than ever,’’ Janes said this week. That’s because Georgia’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the mental health system pertains only to people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, he said. full story

State says it’s meeting mental health timeline

Georgia is on track in delivering promised changes for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, a state official said Friday.

The state promised to revitalize community services as part of a landmark 2010 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over problems in Georgia’s mental health system.

Pamela Schuble, the settlement coordinator with the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said Georgia has met its first-year targets under the agreement. She spoke in Atlanta at the 16th annual Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum.

In the settlement, Georgia pledged to establish community services, including supported housing, 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.

Georgia vowed to end all admissions of people with developmental disabilities to the state psychiatric hospitals by this July. It also promised that patients with developmental disabilities who are already in psychiatric hospitals would be moved out of them by July 2015.

Schuble said that at her agency, ‘’the clear and consistent message is: ‘Make it happen.’ ’’

The state has formed several assertive community treatment teams to help people with mental illness, and has established a crisis stabilization unit in Flowery Branch, with another set to open in Rome in June. More than 100 people with mental illness will receive supported housing by July 1, and 60 people are receiving job help, Schuble said. The state has also set up case management programs. full story

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