"The Cartersville town hall meeting on Nov. 3 is the first of three meetings The Carter Center, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and other stakeholders are holding across the state to foster local engagement in the transformation of Georgia's behavioral health system," said Dr. Thom Bornemann, director of Carter Center Mental Health Program. "The other two events will be held in the Savannah area and Atlanta later this fall. During the past three years, The Carter Center and its partners have worked to develop a vision for Georgia's mental health care system that can compliment and assist the work the state is doing to improve access, quality of care and patient safety. The Center included in the report recommendations specifically addressing areas that are not covered in the recent mental health settlement between the state of Georgia and the Department of Justice, such as children's mental health and the needs of forensic patients.
"[I] will be presenting the Center's report and recommendations alongside Dr. Frank Shelp, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, who will discuss the state's progress in implementing the settlement agreement. ... Since the closing of the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital, it is critical the people of Rome, Cartersville and other areas in the region maintain a continued commitment to build and maintain a quality behavioral health system that works for all of its citizens. The upcoming meeting is the first of many future opportunities for the community to provide their input as plans are implemented."
Many members of Bartow's mental health care community will be in attendance as well as actively participating in the town hall meeting. Starting at 2:30 p.m., Cynthia Wainscott -- an Emerson resident and mental health advocate -- will lead "system issues," which is one of the small group discussions that will examine, provide input and prioritize recommendations about improving community assistance for individuals living with mental illness.
"One of the report's recommendations is that there should be improved inter-agency communication and collaboration," she said. "The shared wisdom of people attending the meeting will be important to help the various agencies figure out how to implement best practices for behavioral health care at the local level. ... Results of the small group's work will help shape The Carter Center's recommendations, which will inform policy makers, planners and advocates as the modernization of our mental health system continues. It will also point the way to increased efficacy and accountability for state dollars that are allocated for behavioral health care across agencies."
A retired mental health educator, Wainscott continues to volunteer for a number of local, state and national organizations, serving on Bartow Health Access' board of directors and as president of Mental Health America's local affiliate. Through her efforts, she is seeking to identify and implement programs and services to help individuals living with mental illness thrive. With the closure of the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome, Wainscott is excited that the mental health system is modernizing -- transitioning from placing people in institutions to assisting people in the community.
"The title of this meeting, 'No Going Back!' reflects the commitment of behavioral health stakeholders and the provider community to vigorously support the reform of our system from one that has been heavily invested in institutions into one that is community-based and recovery-focused," she said. "The closure of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital has put [DBHDD] Region One in the position of developing the model for how to do it 'right' as the modernization of our state's DBHDD system rolls out. We are being looked to as a laboratory to demonstrate excellence. With creativity and innovations like the Peer Support, Wellness and Recovery Center that opened this summer in Cartersville, we are 'leading the way.'"
Due to the Rome hospital's closure and the settlement agreement requiring Georgia to invest in community behavioral health services for adults, Wainscott said Bartow is "experiencing a rapid build-up of community services for adults." With this in mind, she also is pleased that The Carter Center's report reinforces the need for children's services.
"A rational public health approach to mental wellness must focus on youth because approximately 50 percent of behavioral disorders begin before a child reaches his or her 14th birthday," Wainscott said. "Most do not get the help they need, with the tragic consequence that the effects of an untreated serious behavioral disorder on developing brains are great and very negative as neural pathways and patterns of behavior become more established. It is estimated that one in five Georgia youth has a mental health problem that needs treatment, and one in 10 has a serious behavioral disorder that impacts the youth's ability to succeed in school. Because most never get the treatment they need, the resulting cost to them, their families and society is great.
"One recommendation for early detection and intervention is school-based intervention, which on average costs $220 per pupil. This is cost effective. Studies show that $18 is saved for every $1 invested. Positive Behavior Supports, a best practice used in some Georgia schools, costs very little and has been proven to reduce the number of children who need progressively more intensive services. It also reduces school drop-out rates. Community-based behavioral health treatment and services must be available as a partner to school-based mental health so children can be successful in their homes and communities. It is time for child-serving agencies, including DBHDD, to assure that children and adolescents with behavioral disorders are identified and that treatment and services are provided to them and their families in a timely fashion. The benefits to society and to the youth will be great as they stay in school, succeed and avoid disability."
While it is not required, attendees are encouraged to register for Thursday's event by emailing cartercenterMHP@gmail.com or calling 770-606-8715.