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Mental Health

What now? Pact with Justice Department to expire

The coming days will bring the scheduled end of Georgia’s five-year agreement with the feds to improve its care for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

Frank Berry

Frank Berry

A state official said Thursday that Georgia is “waiting to hear’’ from the U.S. Department of Justice about what the federal agency plans to do after the June 30 expiration of the settlement agreement.

Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, repeated a statement made earlier this year that Georgia would not meet a deadline for moving people with developmental disabilities out of state-run hospitals.

There are currently 268 people with developmental disabilities in state hospitals in Atlanta and Augusta. Just eight have been moved into community placements since December, but Berry told GHN that “the pace is picking up.”

Both federal and state officials are believed to be working on proposals for an extension of the pact.  full story

Teen suicide gets new priority in Georgia

He was a solid student, loved sports, and was active in a youth group.

Jason Flatt with his father, Clark.

Jason Flatt with his father, Clark.

But Jason Flatt, who lived in suburban Nashville, used his father’s gun to commit suicide at age 16.

Since his 1997 death, his father, Clark Flatt, has helped raise awareness of youth suicide, including among educators.

He created the nonprofit Jason Foundation, which works to prevent teenage suicide. And 10 years after his death, the Jason Flatt Act was passed in Tennessee, requiring educators to complete two hours of youth suicide awareness and prevention training each year in order to be able to be licensed to teach in Tennessee.

The General Assembly recently passed a bill that would make Georgia the 14th state to pass the Jason Flatt Act.

Youth suicide “is a hugely growing problem and is heartbreaking,’’ says state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), the legislation’s lead sponsor. full story

State: Won’t meet Justice Department deadline

Georgia health officials acknowledge that they won’t meet a June 30 deadline — agreed to with the federal government — for moving people with developmental disabilities out of state-run hospitals.

Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, said at an agency board meeting Thursday that the state will move people from hospitals as soon as community services of sufficient quality are available.

Frank Berry

Frank Berry

For now, he said, 260 Georgians with disabilities remain in state hospitals.

Georgia, under its five-year settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreed to end all admissions of people with developmental disabilities to state psychiatric hospitals. It also promised in the 2010 pact that patients with disabilities already in those hospitals would be moved to more appropriate settings by July 2015.

“We will not meet the deadline,’’ Berry said Thursday. full story

Innovative mental health program short on funds

Mental health experts in Georgia say federal spending cuts will weaken a program that trains ordinary citizens to provide “first aid” for a person experiencing a mental health crisis.

logo-drop-shadow-2xThe December 2012 Connecticut school massacre moved mental health issues up the agenda for the Obama administration and Congress. (Despite this Connecticut case, people with mental illness are generally not violent, experts say.)

After the Sandy Hook shootings, Congress increased the budget of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the federal agency whose job is to reduce the community impact of substance abuse and mental illness.

In 2014’s omnibus budget, Congress also set aside $15 million for a community based awareness program called Mental Health First Aid.

But SAMHSA’s total budget in 2015 will be cut by about $40 million, and Georgia will feel it.

“Any time there’s a cut for mental health funding, it hurts everyone,” said Ellyn Jeager, director of public policy and advocacy at Mental Health America of Georgia. full story

Feds clear Augusta facility after safety problems

An Augusta facility for the developmentally disabled has been certified by the feds after the state corrected significant problems with patient safety there.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency, has notified the state that the Gracewood Developmental Center is now in “substantial compliance’’ with U.S. regulations.

dbhdd-logo-blueThe Georgia Department of  Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) had been warned in August that CMS would end Medicaid payments for Gracewood care unless the state improved conditions there.

A CMS inspection report had said the facility repeatedly failed to ensure the safety of patients, who were subjected to physical and verbal abuse.

Chris Bailey, a spokesman for DBHDD, said Thursday that the agency’s team at Gracewood had made “dramatic improvements’’ there. “The letter from CMS is important evidence of our ability to lead effective change and deliver on our commitment to high-quality care.” full story

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