Valdosta Daily Times

December 30, 2013

Where will they go?

The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — With the closure of Southwestern Hospital imminent, Georgia will soon see a new health crisis on the horizon.

Following a ruling by the Department of Justice in response to squalid conditions at the state’s mental and developmental disabilities facilities, the DOJ is pressuring the state to locate as many of these individuals in home-based settings in their local communities. Although the state was not ordered to close the acute care hospitals, they are, and replacing them with far fewer facilities.

At Southwestern, more than 300 employees will lose their jobs. The facility treats approximately 277 patients each month from the 24-county region, and the new acute care facilities in Valdosta, Thomasville and Albany will house fewer than 75. The facilities are meant to be transitional for patients, to remove them from society when they are a danger to themselves or others temporarily, until another home-based facility can be found.

Little to nothing has been explained about where those who are unable to function without constant monitoring are going to go. Georgia’s jails and prisons are already housing around 20 percent of the state’s mentally ill and developmentally disabled. A 24-bed facility will not be adequate to cover the more than 130 patients referred each month by SGMC to various hospitals around the state. A few will remain open, but largely, these individuals will be monitored at home-based facilities rather than treated in a medical setting.

The state will be saving a tremendous amount of money in the short term, though, as Southwestern costs the state approximately $35 million annually to operate while the Lowndes Center will cost $5.2 million per year to operate. No estimates on the community-based housing or even if there are any available yet have been provided.

What will be the long-term costs of the state’s new initiative? Already, local mental health professionals state that fewer than 40 percent of those who need help with mental health and substance abuse issues actually receive it. How high will that number go now?

While everyone welcomes the new crisis center and is thankful that there is one located in the immediate area, there remain many unanswered questions and concerns that the facility will be inadequate to meet the already present, and swiftly growing, needs of the region.