Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) ordered a study of state services for
residents with mental illness in August. The effort follows critical media
reports and the launch of a federal investigation.
The study will be carried out by the state's Mental Health Service Delivery
Commission, which will examine "conditions, needs, and issues associated
with the services to those with mental illness and substance abuse,"
according to a statement issued by his office.
The commission will address long-standing concerns about "perceived
or actual lack of sufficient funding, inadequate staffing and service delivery
systems, overcrowding, treatment practices that unnecessarily separate
consumers from their families, and the need for ongoing and effective advocacy
on behalf of those children and adults living and receiving behavioral health
Creation of the commission in early August followed a Department of Justice
announcement in July that it would inspect Georgia state psychiatric hospitals
in September to see whether poor conditions violate patients' civil
"It is critical that we take a comprehensive look at Georgia's
delivery of services to citizens who live with mental illnesses and substance
abuse," Perdue said.
The commission also was appointed in the wake of media reports concluding
that more than 100 state psychiatric hospital patients died under suspicious
circumstances from 2002 to 2006, and nearly 200 other patients were physically
or sexually abused.
Earlier Perdue had vetoed a similar commission approved by the Georgia
General Assembly because it did not include members of the executive branch,
who oversee the state's hospitals and the mental health system. Supporters of
the commission said they thought that including officials from the Department
of Human Resources, which operates the state hospitals, would create a
conflict of interest.
Nora Haynes, president of the board of NAMI Georgia, met with Perdue in
August to discuss the turmoil in Georgia's mental health care system.
"Things have been pretty bad around here, and I don't think the
governor realized how bad things were," Haynes said in an interview with
Mental health advocates have questioned the large number of state officials
placed in charge of reviewing the problems and offering solutions, Haynes
said, but they have withheld opposition in the hope that the governor's effort
will improve the system.
Among the leading problems in the state's publically funded mental health
system, according to Haynes, is that the responsibility for the care of people
with psychiatric conditions is split among many government departments.
"There's a lot of money out there, but there's not a lot of
coordination," she said.
The governor's commission will have the authority to recommend changes
during next year's legislative session, and it is supposed to submit a final
report by next June.
The commission's charge includes identifying the "best use of public
and private resources to relieve overcrowding in state facilities and to
further consider methods to develop a full continuum of services and effective
supports so that Georgia's citizens who live with mental illness and substance
abuse may live and work when possible close to their families."
Haynes said she hopes the commission will address Georgia's lack of a
community-based mental health system to offer alternatives to hospitals,
jails, or homelessness.
The public mental health system will never improve, she said, without
better pay for its nurses and physicians. Better compensation is needed to
raise Georgia's near-bottom rank as 44th nationally in state spending on
mental health, according to NAMI.
The order establishing the commission also directed it to report on the
sufficiency of health insurance coverage for those with mental illness,
including substance abuse.
The panel's work will coincide with the Department of Justice investigation
of the state hospitals. The federal inquiry is investigating allegations of
civil rights violations at the seven state psychiatric hospitals.
The state's human resources commissioner separately ordered a team of
high-level government officials to take over management of the state
psychiatric hospital in Atlanta in mid-August to reverse clinical problems
that critics said have contributed to patients' deaths.
The new management team's tasks includes setting new performance standards
for employees, arranging for enhanced training and supervision, and creating
methods to track progress.
Information on the Mental Health Service Delivery Commission is