“I would be clear that the primary motivation here is not a cost savings motive, but this is a more efficient way of treating more people with the
same amount of money,” said Dr. Frank Shelp. “We’ve not been asked to try to save money.”
The state announced in January that it planned to close the state-run mental hospital in West Rome this year. That set off an uproar in the community, in part because of plans to disperse patients into the community. The loss of more than 700 jobs was also a key concern for local business and government officials since the community was already reeling from double-digit unemployment.
The hospital is slated to close by Sept. 30.
“We are reinvesting the money that is coming out of the hospital into community based services,” Shelp said.
Shelp said that across Region One, virtually all of North Georgia, the state will be increasing the level of services for roughly the same amount of money.
“The legislature has been generous in responding to our request for additional monies,” he said.
GDBHDD received an additional $21 million from the legislature this year to provide new community services across North Georgia. That is broken down into $14 million for services to those with adult mental health issues and approximately $7 million for those with development disabilities.
“About $5.2 million of that is in Floyd County,” said Tom Wilson, a spokesman for the GDBHDD.
A large chunk of those funds are earmarked for converting the former Youth Detention Center in West Rome to a 16-bed Crisis Stabilization Unit.
Sixteen is the magic number for the state when it comes to setting up the units. “You get any larger than that and the federal government says no, that’s a state psychiatric institution. Sixteen beds and under they say that’s a community service,” Wilson said.
In the past, if someone were to need to be admitted to a state hospital on an involuntary basis, the state would likely pay the overwhelming majority of the bill.
In the future, should someone go to a Crisis Stablization Unit, the state will pay some and other funds can be drawn from Medicaid.
“The federal government will then pay for part of it,” Wilson said. “The overall expense may be similar, may be less, may be a little bit more but we’re able to draw on Medicaid funding that allows us to use federal funds to offset that.”
He said the situation is similar for those with development disabilities.
“They’ll have Medicaid waivers; Medicaid basically pays for everything that we decide that they need,” Wilson said. “Some people may only need day programs; someone else may need medical care, somebody with them 24-7. There’s actually an assessment that’s done and then the Medicaid waivers pay for that.”
Wilson said there might be a small state match for the patients with developmental disabilities, so out-of-pocket costs for families as a result of the state’s shift away from in-patient car will be minimal.
“The goal is to have a broad continuum of care reasonably accessible to all Georgians,” Shelp said.
At the lower end of the spectrum are patients who simply need an office visit. At the highest level is acute overnight in-patient hospitalization. The key, according to Shelp, is that they receive care — whether it is crisis stabilization, assertive community treatment, intensive case management, supportive employment or any other service.
“There’s a lot of mystery that has shrouded mental illness for centuries, and it’s often made worse by Hollywood exaggerating some of the most exceptional kinds of cases,” said Shelp. “By and large some form of mental health condition will affect almost one in four Americans over the course of their life. The overwhelming majority of them will not need to be institutionalized.”