State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, gave an update of what transpired during the meeting. A guarantee from the governor of service continuation was a top priority, Coomer said, which was granted with the dissolution of a concrete closure date previously set for June 30.
"That was one of the results of our meeting, June 30 will not be a closure date. That will now be a date that they stop accepting new patients and the closure date is not something that is set in stone because the governor agreed that no patient would be discharged from the hospital unless there was a point-to-point continuity plan," Coomer said. "Frankly, that was the most important part, was making sure that we had care for those folks who need it in place."
The decision to close NWGRH came from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities 2011 budget unveiled last week. The decision was rooted in a settlement resulting from a Department of Justice lawsuit against the quality of care at NWGRH. The settlement called for the closure of one state hospital as well as an increase in community services.
A number of facilities are planned to open or increase in response to the closure, which officials believe will alleviate the situation for employees and patients. NWGRH employs about 760 people, and legislators were given a clearer picture of the situation during their meeting with the governor.
"All of those services will have to be ginned up through private providers over the next few months. As a consequence, a pretty significant portion of those folks working at Northwest Georgia Regional are going to have opportunities to go to work for private providers," Coomer said. "So it's not really going to be a 700 job loss for the region. It will be 700 state jobs gone. Estimates aren't clear, but probably around half of those jobs are going to have to be made up through private employment with local hospitals, with regional crisis centers that have yet to be put online and with more robust outpatient services offered by private providers."
Coomer added that about 400 jobs are currently vacant at other state hospitals, and for those choosing to relocate, NWGRH employees would be given first priority.
The Bartow County Mental Emotional Behavioral Health Task Force, a division of Bartow Health Access, has arranged for a meeting to be held Monday in conjunction with their regularly scheduled stakeholders meeting to discuss the opportunities arising from this action. Members of the group concerned with the continual care of patients have garnered the presence of Mark Baker, director of advocacy for GDBHDD. The group has asked Baker to present specific details of the department's plan for patient service and hope that this closure will lead to better adherence to the Olmstead Act, allowing for persons with disabilities to receive care within their home community.
The stakeholders meeting will occur in the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center on Monday from 10 a.m. to noon.