Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

May 26, 2013

Southwestern’s closing to affect Valdosta

Local acute care facility will be built

VALDOSTA — The decision to close Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville announced last week will affect Valdosta and surrounding communities by limiting the options for placement of patients with a mental illness.

However, according to Dr. Nitin Patel, the medical director for Behavioral Services of South Georgia, other options will take the place of the hospital and the community need not fear that those with mental illnesses will be roaming the streets.

“They will always be taken care of, just in a different setting,” said Patel. “The Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities is drawing up plans now for acute care facilities in communities.”

According to Patel, housing mentally ill patients in community-based centers allows them to stay closer to home while receiving treatment and they can be better monitored.

“Now, most patients are admitted against their wishes, and when they are released, they may or may not do as the doctor prescribed. They may miss follow-up appointments and not take their medications.”

Patel said that the community-based centers will be able to follow these patients more closely to provide a “better continuity of care.”

Currently, South Georgia Medical Center alone sees approximately 135 patients through the Emergency Room each month who have a form of mental illness, according to Randy Sauls, chief executive officer.

“Most of the patients we see in the ER have a serious issue, and they are in danger of harming themselves or others, or they have an inability to care for themselves.”

Of the 135, Sauls said approximately 50 are able to be discharged back into the community, with the remaining 85 requiring transfer to another facility for treatment.

“Of those 85

 approximately 20 each month are sent to Southwestern in Thomasville and the others are sent to facilities around the state, in Albany, Columbus, Augusta, Milledgeville or Atlanta, depending on the patient’s needs,” he said.

According to Sauls, SGMC cannot legally let a patient leave until a place can be found for them, which could be a matter of a few days or longer.

“By law, we cannot discharge them. When we find a facility that can take them, we have a contract with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office to transport them,” he said.

Patel said often, these patients are handcuffed and restrained when they arrive at a treatment facility, which carries a “stigma.”

According to Patel, many of these patients are fine in outpatient centers with about 5 to 10 percent needing more care.

“These 5 to 10 percent include those with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, major depression, severe anxiety or severe substance-abuse issues,” said Patel. “They need to be in a more secure, acute care facility.”

Although there are plans for an acute care facility locally, Patel said no site has yet been selected and the details are not yet finalized. However, Behavioral Health Services will open and operate these facilities in all of the counties they serve.

Sauls said he has not yet been informed about the future placement of these patients but as Southwestern isn’t slated to close until the end of the year, he feels certain that plans will be in place by then so they have somewhere to go.

“The decision to close Southwestern doesn’t just affect us here in Valdosta. It affects all of the region’s hospitals, including Berrien, Brooks, Cook and Lanier,” he said.

Patel said the decision to close Southwestern was partly economic and partly due to the Department of Justice lawsuit (see History sidebar).

“Operating Southwestern was very expensive,” he said, adding that the employees displaced by the state’s decision will have the opportunity to transfer to one of the community-based facilities.

“Those with severe mental illness will not be out walking the streets, being aggressive or violent. They will always be taken care of,” Patel said.

Text Only
Local News
  • 140724-LAT1.jpg Little Actors Theatre ready for summer show

    Since 2004, the Little Actors Theatre has provided a place for children ages 6 to 19 to express themselves through acting.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • 072414-MichelleNunn003.jpeg Michelle Nunn visits Valdosta

    The day after learning that her Republican challenger would be David Perdue, Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn kicked off her Common Sense and Collaboration Tour Wednesday by meeting with business owners in Atlanta, Athens and Macon and continued her tour Thursday morning by visiting the David S. Waller Unit facility of the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • lunch.jpg Valdosta One Lunch feeds summer-hungry kids

    Hunger is a concept that many people associate with third-world countries, not their hometown. However, in Valdosta, hunger is real. To combat this hunger, a group of Valdostans have created Valdosta One Lunch, a program that distributes bagged meals to children in need.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • thumbs up.jpeg Moody squadron commander reaches milestone

    The 75th Fighter Squadron commander hit a career milestone July 17, by surpassing 3,000 flight hours in an A-10C Thunderbolt II.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • water.jpg New equipment expected to deal with Lowndes water violations

    The Lowndes County Commission’s recent approval of $1.6 million for water-treatment equipment is expected to counter a past series of water-quality violations within the county.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • 142314-Goodwill.jpg Goodwill hosts the Mexican Consulate

    Mexican citizens living in South Georgia have spent this week lining up at the Valdosta Goodwill to meet with the Mexican Consulate to obtain Mexican government issued identification.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140723-Tree001.jpg Chamber plants 100th centennial tree

    Founded in September 1912, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest chambers in the state.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 140723 - Operation M#10E3C7.JPG Veterans First

    With Moody Air Force Base expecting to lose 300 to 400 personnel due to government cutbacks, area organizations are working with military personnel about to enter the civilian work force.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Lowndes increases millage rate

    For the first time since 1999, the Lowndes County Commission voted Wednesday to increase the millage rate.

    July 24, 2014

  • dui memorial 1.jpg Memorial honors woman killed in DUI case

    More than a week after the man responsible for her death was sentenced to five years in jail, a memorial sign has been placed at the site where Sheila Foster-Lamb was hit and killed by an impaired driver while she was on her way to work.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

Top News
Poll

School starts again in about two weeks. What do you think?

It's still summer. School starts too soon.
Seems like the right time to return.
Abolish summer recess. Make school year-round.
     View Results