That’s the promise made to the legislature’s joint appropriations committee Thursday by Dr. Frank Shelp, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Shelp was noncommittal when asked if that means the psychiatric hospital might not be closed on June 30, insisting on the importance of a deadline.
“We have dates as targets,” he reiterated. “But we’re not under any compulsion to close the Rome hospital prior to having those other services up and running.”
Shelp said NWGRH did “very well” in its last U.S. Department of Justice review. He suggested the community resources already in place led it to be picked as the next to move its consumers to private settings.
Several questioners noted that the partial closing of Central State Hospital in Milledgeville last year has been problematic, but Shelp said conditions are more favorable for the NWGRH transition.
“We’re not starting from zero,” he said. “We’re at midfield right now.”
Cobb and Hall county hospitals will get contracts to handle psychiatric patients in immediate crisis, and talks are under way with Floyd Medical Center and the hospital in Dalton, he said.
Additionally, bids are expected to be awarded within the next month or two for 12 Assertive Community Treatment Teams — medical professionals that serve targeted patients “wherever they are.” Contracts also have been awarded for two crisis stabilization teams, he said, although their locations have not yet been determined.
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she has asked for one to be based in Floyd County.
“I understand the preliminary discussion is to put one in Cobb,” she said. “I hope (Shelp) said he’s not sure because he’s rethinking things. I will continue to push for that.”
Floyd County’s legislative delegates met with Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday to discuss future plans, and received assurances borne out by Shelp’s budget presentation.
“There’s also a commitment to come in and help the employees find jobs,” Dempsey said. “There are vacancies in other state hospitals, and the expectation is that there will be more jobs in the field in our region, because of the new services that will be developed.”
State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, said coordination also is under way with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies for housing and support services.
“The issue is timing,” he said. “I don’t sense there are adequate services right now, but there is money in the budget to support those services and a disproportionate amount is going to the northwest part of the state.”
The statewide shift to community-based care by 2015 can be viewed as an opportunity, said state Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville.
“The best thing we can do is get out in front of this, take advantage of being first in line,” he said. “Once our local providers understand and develop the kinds of services that are going to be needed, they’ll be in a position to expand and provide them throughout the state.”
NWGRH serves mentally ill and developmentally disabled patients from a 31-county region stretching from the Alabama line to the South Carolina border. One benefit of the reorganization Shelp mentioned is that services will be much closer for consumers who aren’t based in Floyd County.
Shelp said closing the hospital campus would net a $5 million savings: Eliminating a $17 million expense and funneling $12 million into contracts for replacement services.
But state Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, said that may be too simplistic.
Reece is compiling data on patient needs, employee compensation and the bricks-and-mortar facility. She said the fate of the state-owned complex off Redmond Road is up in the air, but improvements worth nearly $3 million are still under way.
“In addition to concerns about having jobs and services available, I also feel we should keep the hospital open long enough to reap the benefits of the funds that have been sunk out there in the last 3 years,” she said.
Since 2007, the state has awarded $5.6 million in contracts ranging from laundry and kitchen upgrades to new electric, water and sewer lines, Reece said.
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