Report notes progress on mental health pact

The state has made significant progress toward meeting the goals of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, an independent report says.

But the Oct. 5 report, by independent reviewer Elizabeth Jones, is critical of some community services and help provided to people with disabilities. It cites health care problems, a lack of day programs, and unsafe medication practices.

Jones was appointed to track the progress of the state in meeting its obligations under the five-year landmark agreement with the Justice Department. She will give such reports annually.

The state “has demonstrated good faith and commitment in its implementation of the Year One obligations,’’ the report says.

Under the settlement, which was reached last October, Georgia agreed 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 end all admissions of people with developmental disabilities to the state psychiatric hospitals by July of this year. It also promised that patients with developmental disabilities already in those hospitals would be moved out of them by July 2015.

Jones notes in the report that the state has followed through on its vow to cease admitting people with developmental disabilities into state  hospitals, and she calls that “a landmark accomplishment.’’

More than 150 of these individuals reside in community residential settings, the report says.

In a sampling of 48 patients with developmental disabilities, though, Jones found “failures to provide meaningful and adequate day programming, to fully monitor health care, and to obtain informed consent for psychotropic medications and behavioral support plans.’’ The medical problems included not tracking people’s significant weight fluctuations.

On the mental health side, Jones’ report notes the creation of crisis and case management teams, the contracting for beds in community hospitals, and the development of supported housing and employment.

The report notes that the state is out of compliance with the agreement in the continued hospitalization of two people under age 18. And it cites a substantiated allegation of neglect in the wake of the death of another unidentified individual.

A spokesman for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities said Friday that the report “reflects the progress we’ve made”  in the first months of the settlement agreement.

“We had to do a lot of work to place people with developmental disabilities in community settings,’’ said the spokesman, Tom Wilson.

The report, he said, “is indicative of a Georgia that has turned the ship around.’’

“There is a lot of work to be done,’’ Wilson acknowledged. The care problems cited by Jones “reflect the challenges of building community services,’’ Wilson said, and he added that the state is upgrading its monitoring of the quality of services.

Officials with Atlanta Legal Aid, which participated in forging the settlement agreement with other advocacy organizations, said much of the work in improving services lies ahead.

“The state has hit their numbers, but there is still a lot of work to do to reach the quality [of services] expected,’’ said Talley Wells, director of the Disability Rights Project of Atlanta Legal Aid.

For example, he said, many people with mental illness who are currently hospitalized are capable of living successfully in communities with the help of supported housing.

The report did not show any tracking of the progress of individuals with mental illness, noted Sue Jamieson of Atlanta Legal Aid. And Jamieson, a longtime consumer advocate, said the report did not specify what the state did to correct problems for people with developmental disabilities.

More data are needed on how many people the mental health crisis teams are serving, and how they are functioning, she added.