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Report finds improvements under Justice pact

Georgia has made considerable progress in improving services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, a new report says.

The report by an independent reviewer, which was released last week, tracks the steps the state has taken since it agreed to revamp its services in an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Georgia has actually exceeded second-year targets of providing supported housing and employment for people with mental illness. It also surpassed its required number of placements of individuals with developmental disabilities from state hospitals into residential settings, according to the report by independent reviewer Elizabeth Jones.

But, like Jones’ report a year ago, this review also cites some significant problems.

A review of services for 48 individuals with developmental disabilities placed in community settings found rights violations, unsanitary environments, inadequate staffing, unsatisfactory day programs, and psychotropic drug use without informed consent. “Needed supports were found to be lacking,’’ Jones says in the report.

Frank Berry, who recently became commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), said that while the report is largely positive, “we’re most concerned that some individuals with developmental disabilities didn’t receive adequate support from our contracted service providers.”

Department spokesman Tom Wilson said Monday that the state is still building its network of service providers for people with developmental disabilities. “Providers needed more training and oversight’’ than some of them received, Wilson said.

In the 2010 settlement with the Justice Department, 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. full story

New leader of DBHDD announced

Frank W. Berry III was named Friday as the next commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Berry, currently CEO of View Point Health in Lawrenceville, replaces Dr. Frank Shelp, the agency’s first commissioner, who announced his resignation last week.

Berry will assume his new duties Aug. 11. He will take over the reins of an agency that’s currently under pressure to meet requirements of the state’s 2010 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to improve Georgia’s mental health and developmental disabilities system.

DBHDD’s developmental disabilities leadership recently experienced a shakeup, and before his departure, Shelp had been the focus of questions concerning his handling of agency bonuses and acceptance of lobbyists’ gifts.

Still, Shelp received considerable praise for leading the agency through its 2009 startup and for its work in creating more community services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities. full story

Despite controversies, Shelp’s exit worries many

For weeks, the rumors swirled about Dr. Frank Shelp – that he would soon be gone as head of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

The speculation irritated those in the mental health and developmental disabilities community who supported Shelp’s work. Other people, though, wanted him gone.

The rumors turned into reality Friday, when Shelp, the only commissioner in the agency’s three-year history, announced his resignation. He will leave his post in August.

Appointed by the previous governor, Sonny Perdue, in 2009, Shelp led the state’s effort to implement the landmark 2010 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve Georgia’s mental health and developmental disabilities system.

He directed the closure of the state mental hospital in Rome and the reduction of services at the Milledgeville campus, and oversaw the creation of new community services so people with disabilities could live outside of institutions.

Patient advocates contacted by GHN on Friday praised Shelp’s work on the Justice Department pact and on improving community services.

But Shelp also had some controversies to deal with, including accepting meals from lobbyists despite a ban on them for state employees by Gov. Nathan Deal, according to an AJC article.

State Rep. Keith Heard (D-Athens) criticized Shelp last year over the payment of 46 bonuses given to employees for taking  jobs as lowly as filing clerk all the way up to commissioner. All were paid outside of the state’s normal procedures, according to a Morris News Service article. full story

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

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