"We all have a mental diagnosis or [are] dually diagnosed with substance abuse and a mental diagnosis," said James Guffey, director of the Cartersville center. "So we all can share strength and hope with other peers. So our service basically is going to be somewhere they can come and have peer support with other peers without having to go to a hospital or anything like that. We'll have a 24-hour warm line to where they can call and speak with a certified peer specialist, which we all are and we will give them support over the phone 24 hours a day.
"We also have activities from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and then 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and that will be a chance for the peers to come and ... we'll have different activities where we are focusing on moving on in life and we'll do some physical activities like wellness walks. We'll also do art exploration, different kinds of aroma and music [offerings] and very therapeutic stuff, a lot of relaxation in order to try to get people out of just being in a clinical setting, because it's just a very laid-back and easy going setting."
Along with providing peer support and wellness activities, the center also provides a complimentary respite program.
"We do a proactive interview with our peers that want to use our respite program," Guffey said, adding there are three beds on site. "Basically we find out where they are in life, and then if they feel like they're on the verge of going to the hospital or just need 24 hours of peer support. They can actually stay in our center for up to seven days, and all of this is all free of charge."
To provide the community some insight into its offerings, the Peer Support, Wellness and Respite Center is holding an open house Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m.
"We're just trying to get the community to come and visit and see exactly what we're providing," Guffey said. "We also want peers and people to use our service and come in and enjoy what we have going on here. [Also the open house is] for other service providers to actually see what we have so that they can refer people here and understand what we are doing."
Located at 201 N. Erwin St. in Cartersville, the Peer Support, Wellness and Respite Center is one of three existing centers in the state, the other peer-run facilities being in Decatur and Cleveland. Bartow County's offering is operated by the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network and funded through a contract with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.The services provided are for people 18 and older, who accept that they have a mental health diagnosis and want to move forward in their recovery.
As posted on the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network's website, www.gmhcn.org, the Decatur site's evaluations highlight the positive nature of a Peer Support center.
"[The evaluations] show [that for] many of them, it prevented them from being hospitalized and helps them gain the support that they need," Guffey said. "A lot of people who are diagnosed or are having substance abuse problems are lacking support in general and this is a chance for them to have other people who have gone through similar struggles to be here and support them so it gets them back in the community and then working toward moving on in their life and moving forward."
For Cynthia Wainscott, a local mental health advocate and member of the Behavioral and Emotional Health Resources group, the implementation of the local Peer Support, Wellness and Respite Center is a step in the right direction.
"With the closure of the hospital in Rome, Georgia's mental health system is modernizing," Wainscott said, referring to Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital, which she said only has one patient remaining. "We're leaving behind the old technology of putting people in institutions, and we're transitioning to the new technology of supporting people in the community. ... [Our group has been working] to figure out how to improve our public mental health system and we know that one of the things that's needed is earlier intervention. The old system tended to wait until people were in crisis. That's a very expensive way to treat people, and it's very harmful to the people.
"So we recognized about four major needs and one of them was a way to do earlier intervention before a crisis becomes full blown. The Peer Support, Wellness and Respite Center will do that. The only other one in the state that's [been] operating [for a while] is down in Decatur. They've demonstrated that when people use it as a respite place, they're able to shortcut the crisis and keep people in the community. That's a savings for the state's dollars and it's a huge benefit for the consumers and their families."
For more information about the Peer Support, Wellness and Respite Center, call 770-276-2019, which also serves as the organization's 24-hour warm line.