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Shelp resigns as DBHDD commissioner

The commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is resigning.

Dr. Frank Shelp has been the only commissioner of the agency since its creation by the General Assembly in 2009. He will leave the position  in August, a press release said Friday. The governor’s office will conduct a search for his replacement.

Shelp, a psychiatrist, has presided over Georgia’s compliance on the 2010 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice that seeks to improve the state’s mental health and developmental disabilities system. full story

280 jobs cut as patients leave Milledgeville hospital

A state agency announced Friday that the remaining patients with developmental disabilities will be moved out of the state psychiatric hospital in Milledgeville into community residences by July.

That move will lead to layoffs for 280 Central State Hospital employees, said Tom Wilson, a spokesman for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). Those employees have received a 30-day notice of their positions being cut.

The discharges of the final 16 patients with developmental disabilities follows the placement of 100 others from the sprawling Milledgeville campus into group homes and other community settings since October.

The state is pursuing the goal of having all developmentally disabled patients out of state mental hospitals by 2015, as is required under the landmark 2010 settlement between Georgia and the Department of Justice.

While consumer advocates have praised the transition of patients out of institutional care, DBHDD has drawn sharp criticism over its limitations on the housing situations for people with disabilities.

And a state lawmaker who represents Milledgeville questions whether the developmentally disabled patients will have the same variety of activities in group homes that they received at Central State Hospital. full story

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

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