Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mental Illness

The Gringe Who Stole Christmas

This year those who suffer from mental illness will not have many gifts under the tree. In past year’s they would have nicely wrapped gifts of day treatment programs, respite care, job training, and state funded in-patient hospitalization beds. Now the tree is barren and empty. The only thing left is the memory of past years of fullness when all who asked; got what they wanted.

Georgia is the grips of one of the worst economic crisis in years. According to a November 19, 2008 document titled Hospital Game Plan Update, the state has the following four strategies to deal with the economic shortfall:
· Consolidate hospital populations
· Shift the front door from the hospitals to the community
· Privatized to construct new facilities
· Close some hospitals

The state says that this plan will:
Provide new hospital infrastructure to replace outdated and inefficient facilities
Expands and enhance treatment alternatives in the community
Position the state hospital to be used only after community options have been exhausted

In 2008 the state hospital system has 580 mental health beds, 588 forensic beds, 929 development disability beds, 56 child and adolescent beds, and 210 skilled nursing facility beds. By 2012, the state projects the numbers to be 450, 600, 250, 0 (zero), and 210 respectively. The state further wants to increase by 2012 the number of crisis stabilization beds 48% to 172 total beds, create six new social detoxification programs, increase the number of mobile crisis teams 154 % to 68 counties, increase the number of ACT teams 114% to eight teams with each team having a caseload of 70, and increasing the transportation budget to $700,000.

No one in the advocacy community questions the need for changes. What is in question is speed of the changes and how the state will implement this plan. Another concern is that in other states where privatization occurred it failed and the system left the most vulnerable without services.

Some say the mental health system in this state has reached a tipping point. The system has reached a critical mass. The system must change or many will suffer. All those who suffer with the pain and shame of mental illness need an advocate at this time to ensure the quality of their life. We need you. During the 2009 legislative session, the three biggest concerns for our constituents are the budget, the re-organization plan of DHR/MH/MR, and the closure of the state hospitals. Hopefully you can find some passion in one of these causes to fight for. Please join us in this fight.

Johnnie L. Jenkins, III, MA, NCC, RPT, LPC