The Georgia Mental Health Commission is planning the next round of reforms

ATLANA – Georgia begins the “Decade of Mental Health Reform,” said Kevin Tanner, chairman of the State Commission on Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation.

A high-level commission formed in 2019 has developed long-term recommendations for tackling the country’s dire mental health outcomes. The General Assembly adopted some of these recommendations during the 2022 legislative session.

The commission met on Thursday to review the progress of reforms and plan the next legislative session.

“This is one of the best budget and political years the agency has seen in many, many years,” said Kaylee Noggle, commissioner of the State Department of Community Health (DCH), which administers Georgia’s Medicaid and the National Health Plan. aid, which covers teachers. and civil servants.

Commissioners identified pay rates for mental health and labor shortages, coordination of care and helping people with mental illness to avoid the criminal justice system as key priorities for the next round of reforms.

A spokeswoman for Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said she was concerned that relatively low payment rates in Georgia for inpatient psychiatric treatment were contributing to a lack of treatment options for Georgians.

Some mental health beds in Georgia are filled by people from other states who have been sent here because of Georgia’s low levels, Oliver said.

DCH recently raised payment rates for some inpatient psychiatric facilities.

“There’s still a big gap,” Nogel admitted.

The new bill on mental health services requires the DCH to study and report on reimbursement rates in Georgia by the end of this year.

Oliver said he would closely monitor the results of this percentage survey. She called on Nogall to use his role to ensure that rates are raised.

“It starts with you,” Oliver told Nogall. That’s a pretty high priority for me.

The lack of treatment options is reflected in the number of children with mental health complaints who repeatedly visit the emergency departments of children’s hospitals in Atlanta (CHOA), said Dr. Daniel Salinas, head of clinical integration in the community for the hospital system.

Salinas said many of the children who repeatedly came to CHOA’s emergency departments with serious mental health complaints had been in state custody and / or had a history of physical or sexual abuse.

Salinas said there was a lack of “healthy coordination” of plans to treat children’s mental health.

“As an advocacy organization, we see that this is not being done [care coordination] for children’s mental health as discrimination, “said Kim Jones, executive director of Georgia’s Alliance for Mental Illness division.

Salinas said the CHOA has set aside $ 170 million to develop mental health services over the next five years. The hospital system recently launched an outpatient referral center and is piloting a program in which mental health services are integrated into a primary care center.

Oliver said she was particularly concerned about a subgroup of children in state detention who are not housed in families or group homes and instead live in hotels.

She said there could be between 30 and 60 such children in Georgia living in hotels every day.

As for criminal justice, Tanner said the issue of transportation to mental health services for people detained by law enforcement is often raised during last year’s discussions.

A subcommittee chaired by Georgia Supreme Court President Michael Boggs will study how many such trips are needed and how much they cost, Tanner said.

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