Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

June 10, 2013

A band-aid in a crisis?

-- — The announcement Monday by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities that a crisis stabilization center will be built in Lowndes County is good news for some, not so great for others.

The announcement came with other news delivered by State Commissioner Frank Berry, including that only about half of the current employees at Southwestern State Hospital will end up with a chance at one of the jobs that will be filled at the two new crisis centers, including one in Thomas County and the expansion of the one in Albany, in addition to the various group facilities that will be built.

Also, at capacity, the three centers will only accommodate less than a third of those currently treated at Southwestern each month.

Yes, there are a handful of other facilities, and yes, individuals with mental-health and substance-abuse issues will be better served close to home, so those in Lowndes County will be better off but those in 21 of the 24 counties in the DBHDD District 4 still have to leave their local communities for acute care.

And yes, those who are having issues which require non-medical treatment can be taken straight to the crisis center, and won’t have to go into the local emergency rooms.

All of the changes announced by the state are in reaction to a Department of Justice ruling governing treatment and care at state facilities, particularly for those with developmental disabilities. The state isn’t being forced to close the hospitals, but appears to be doing so to trim personnel costs, with less than half of those currently employed at Southwestern even having the opportunity to move to another facility. The rest of the jobs will just go away.

And given that it takes an estimated $80,000 above the purchase price of a house to retrofit it to become a group home, another of the state’s initiatives to accommodate some of the individuals being turned out of the hospitals, the price tag for these initiatives is going to skyrocket just to pay for the new facilities and to operate them.

It seems more prudent to actually build the new crisis centers and group homes and slowly transfer patients from the hospital to the new units than to shut the hospital down in six months with no facilities constructed.

Perhaps the GDBHDD should rethink the timing and scope of these changes.

While those with developmental disabilities and substance-abuse issues are generally non-violent and pose no threat to themselves or others, the same can’t be said for all those currently served in the state system.

Until the state comes up with a long-term plan to deal with those who are a danger, building short-term crisis centers seems like just another band-aid on a much larger issue.

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