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DOJ pact shows results, but challenges remain

A man who lived for years in a crude shelter in the woods is now housed in an apartment.

A young woman who was institutionalized for a dozen years now lives in her own home, and is using the bathroom by herself for the first time in her life.

The two individuals’ transitions are among the success stories of Georgia’s 2010 agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to revamp the state’s system to care for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

On Friday, state officials described these two people’s new situations in an update on the settlement agreement at the Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum, held at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

Officials with the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) also detailed the hurdles and problems in remaking the public system of care, in the wake of the Justice Department settlement. full story

State eyes major change in Medicaid

State officials, in an abrupt shift, are moving toward creating a case management system for hundreds of thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries who are “aged, blind and disabled.’’

This summer, the Department of Community Health, citing the uncertainty about Medicaid’s future, stepped away from a proposal to place beneficiaries residing in nursing homes, as well as those with disabilities, into managed care plans.

But now, the Medicaid agency appears to envision a lighter form of managed care for those beneficiaries.

Medicaid covers 1.7 million Georgians who are poor or disabled. The majority of Medicaid recipients are children, who, along with pregnant women, are already in managed care plans.

The state’s decision may be at least partly linked to the financial crunch that Medicaid faces.

Gov. Nathan Deal recently noted that for the 2013 and 2014 budget years, the state faces a $700 million shortfall in its Medicaid program.

The aged, blind and disabled population represents about 25 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries in Georgia but accounts for about 55 percent of Medicaid costs here.

The agency replied to a query from GHN on the case management proposal with an emailed statement. “DCH is currently reviewing opportunities to provide case management and care coordination services to the fee-for-service (FFS) population within a FFS payment model,” the statement said. full story

Overcoming the stigma of mental illness

Nearly all Georgians agree that mental health treatment can help people lead normal lives. But just 58 percent say people are caring and sympathetic to those with mental illness.

And adults with symptoms of mental illness are even less likely to agree that people are caring and sympathetic.

Georgians’ attitudes toward mental illness are similar to those felt by people nationwide, according to a new CDC study released Friday at the 28th annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy, held at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

About 1 in 4 American adults has a mental disorder in any given year.

But a major barrier to successful treatment, obtaining services and social inclusion is the stigma of mental illness –- the negative attitudes and beliefs that prompt people to reject, avoid and discriminate against those with the condition.

Overcoming this stigma was the theme of the Carter Center symposium.

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter opened the meeting Thursday by noting that the stigmatizing of the mentally ill is a barrier to their housing and employment and wellness. Being included socially “is so important as an antidote to stigma,’’ she said.

She spoke Friday of the decades she has spent fighting the negative social attitudes surrounding mental illness. “Stigma is lifting a little bit [but] we have a long way to go,’’ she said.

Elyn Saks speaks to a Carter Center audience. Courtesy of the Carter Center/Paige Rohe

Several speakers at the symposium described their own fight against mental illness and the stigma that often comes with it. They included Elyn Saks, an attorney and professor at the University of Southern California’s law school. full story

Mental health agency OKs tight 2014 budget

The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities has approved a fiscal 2014 budget that includes reductions to service providers, the closing of a nursing home and probable job cuts.

Like other state agencies, DBHDD is required to cut its budget 3 percent under orders from Gov. Nathan Deal’s Office of Planning and Budget. The state has been struggling with sluggish tax revenues amid a slow economy.

The current fiscal year also will take $27.8 million in cuts, but the fiscal 2014 reduction of the same amount will be much more difficult to absorb, agency officials said Thursday at their board meeting.

Jeff Minor, deputy commissioner of DBHDD, noted that the agency’s approval of a budget is just “the first step in a long process’’ of reaching a final budget.

“We hope it’s not a done deal,’’ Minor said of the austere new plan. “Some cuts we can take; some cuts are very difficult to take.’’

Spared from the budget knife is funding for the settlement agreements with the Department of Justice to boost community services and to improve state hospital care. Medicaid matching funds also have been exempted.  full story

Autism research initiative is a coup for state

Atlanta is the home of a new autism “center of excellence,’’ thanks to a federal grant of more than $8.3 million to Emory University.

The funding from the National Institutes of Health will launch a collaborative research initiative involving the Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Department of Pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine, and the Yerkes Primate Research Center at Emory.

The center will be one of only three autism centers of excellence in the country. The research will focus on developing early detection and treatment for autism, along with looking into causes of the brain disorder.

The Marcus Center saw 5,600 children in 2011, making it the leading autism center in the U.S., officials said. A news conference Thursday at the state Capitol announced the grant and the center of excellence designation.

One of every 88 U.S. children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. In Georgia, the rate is even higher –- one in every 84 children. Ami Klin, director of the Autism Center of Excellence and the Marcus Autism Center, told GHN that the state’s higher rate is due to broader detection and awareness efforts in Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal, speaking at the news conference, noted the magnitude of the autism problem and its effects not just on families but on communities. He called the autism initiative “a great opportunity for the state of Georgia.’’ full story

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