Introducing My GCAL

Greetings and welcome to (almost) spring, whether the temperature agrees or not!  We have really hit the ground running this year, and it is hard to believe that we are only two months into 2019.  Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the Capitol, which signals the last day for bills to cross over from one chamber to the other, providing a path to become law.  Health care has been a priority in 2019, and we are grateful for the relationships we have built that allow us to serve as a resource to Governor Kemp and members of the General Assembly.  

Greetings and welcome to (almost) spring, whether the temperature agrees or not!  We have really hit the ground running this year, and it is hard to believe that we are only two months into 2019.  Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the Capitol, which signals the last day for bills to cross over from one chamber to the other, providing a path to become law.  Health care has been a priority in 2019, and we are grateful for the relationships we have built that allow us to serve as a resource to Governor Kemp and members of the General Assembly.  

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of standing beside the Governor and First Lady Marty Kemp when he announced the release of a new tool focused on Georgia’s youth, the My GCAL app.

This app is an additional way for people to connect with the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL), DBHDD’s 24/7 statewide helpline that provides free and confidential access to crisis and routine services for mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

For more than a decade, GCAL has helped hundreds of thousands of Georgians get the care they need through the crisis and referral line.  However, we know that people under 25 are much less likely to make a phone call for help than any other age group.  They prefer to text and chat online, and our service delivery systems must adapt to be relevant.  During the 2018 Legislative session, Chair Katie Dempsey, one of Georgia’s many champions for children’s mental health, led the charge to secure additional funds to make this technology upgrade a reality.

Young Georgians today are under more pressure than any generation before them.  Rates of anxiety and depression for teens are on the rise. Adolescence is a critical developmental age.  It is also an age when many people are not comfortable telling a parent or teacher that they need help.  It might also be difficult to know what to do if a friend is struggling.  This can have tragic consequences for Georgia families.  In the last two decades, the rate of suicide in our state increased by 16 percent, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth nationwide. 

These facts compel us to craft new solutions and resources.  DBHDD and our partner Behavioral Health Link, which operates GCAL, designed My GCAL.  The app provides the same professional, confidential response as the GCAL.  Users can text or chat with caring professionals trained in crisis management and de-escalation.  The app can also call GCAL, which means they do not need to save or remember the number. 

My GCAL is available on iOS and Android.  Please urge those you love to download the app today.  You might be able to connect someone to lifesaving help.  We are fortunate to live in a state where such a unique, lifesaving resource is at our fingertips.

Judy Fitzgerald Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

A Year in Review

Earlier this year, I shared the story of DBHDD’s transformation from a system that was inconsistent and fragmented to an accountable and transparent continuum of care for all people we serve. While this dramatic transformation has unfolded over the last decade, the past year has been marked by an intensification of progress. As 2018 comes to a close, I would like to thank all of you for the passion and partnership that characterize the following highlights of Georgia’s achievements.

Children’s Mental Health

Last year, I had the honor of serving as co-chair of Governor Deal’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health. We made eight recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly, including strategies for enhancing school-based mental health services, crisis services, suicide prevention, education and prevention of opioid use, telemedicine infrastructure, and training on evidence-based practices. In March, Governor Deal and the General Assembly invested more than $20 million to accomplish goals in each of these critical areas.

Recovery, Wellness, and Independence

For DBHDD and our hospital and provider community, our mission is to facilitate recovery, wellness, and independence. These three tenets drive our purpose, and this year, we codified our commitment in policy to deliver a clear message about who we are and what we do. The policy articulates our belief in the principles of self-determination, freedom, and personal responsibility as the key to achieving a satisfying, independent life with dignity and respect. It is an important summary, our “Why” as an organization, and you can read it here.

Intellectual and Developmental Disability Planning Lists

In 2016, we began reviewing our approach to the I/DD Planning list to ensure that individuals with the greatest level of need were prioritized, regardless of their location in the state. Since then, we have adjusted outdated staffing patterns and adopted new tools and technology to support more consistent and sophisticated analysis of changing needs and to improve access and communication. For more information, please see our Multiyear Planning Lists Strategic Plan.

Center for Wellness, Hope, and Learning

In March, we opened the new Center for Wellness, Hope, and Learning at Central State Hospital. The center consolidated the hospital’s treatment mall services into one innovative, state-of-the-art facility designed to support recovery in an education-like environment. The center follows a recovery model focused on hope, wellness, respect, and self-responsibility while helping people learn practical skills that prepare them for a life beyond the hospital. Each of our hospitals has adopted thoughtful design advances that demonstrate a modern, hopeful, and skill-based approach to treatment.

DBHDD as a Learning Organization

One of the things that set’s DBHDD apart is our commitment to embody the principles of a learning organization. We believe that team members should have opportunities to grow and develop through awareness of self and others.

Our Office of Human Resources and Learning supports our evolution as a learning organization by working to ensure that we have a skilled, trained, engaged, and high-performing workforce to meet the needs of the people we serve. Our suite of development opportunities includes a new model for hospital staff orientation, training programs for our staff and community providers, learning systems and content development, and a Management Academy for emerging leaders. We are also training our team members in the Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) to enhance our effectiveness through improved communication. As we strive for excellence in all we do, we want DBHDD to be a place where meaningful and mission-driven work occurs.

Fighting on the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic

As Georgia’s opioid authority, DBHDD is responsible for the prevention, treatment, and recovery elements of our statewide response to the opioid epidemic. In 2017, we received SAMHSA’s two-year State Targeted Response (STR) to the Opioid Crisis grant ($11.8 million per year), which we have put to work providing naloxone training and kits, public services announcements, expanded medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs, a peer warm line, recovery coaches for emergency departments, and education for providers.

In September of this year, we were awarded SAMHA’s State Opioid Response (SOR) to replace the STR funds which end in April 2019. The SOR grant provides $19.9 million per year for two years and will allow DBHDD to expand and sustain the work set in motion through the STR grant.

In addition, we received $4 million in new state funding (FY 2019) to support statewide implementation of Addiction Recovery Support Centers, an essential, peer-led element of the recovery continuum. We also engaged with the Georgia Department of Public Health to develop Georgia’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan, and we serve on Attorney General Chris Carr’s Statewide Opioid Taskforce.

Information Technology Transformation

In the last five years, our information technology (IT) system has profoundly transformed. DBHDD’s IT improvements are not just about new software and gadgets. We have enhanced security, provider data, technology supporting clinical oversight for high-risk individuals, forensic evaluation tools, employee support, application development, and support, hospital and enterprise reporting, and more. While these improvements enhance our ability to accomplish daily work, the real impact is on our ability to provide more efficient and responsive care to the people we serve.
Suicide Prevention
With the alarming statistic that suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between ages 10 and 34, suicide prevention is one of DBHDD’s top priorities. We use a data-driven approach to facilitate suicide prevention coalitions that work with faith, business, and civic leaders, and community service boards and other local providers to train and educate. This year, we supported training of approximately 600 providers and community members in two proven gatekeeper suicide programs: Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Each of us has a role to play in suicide prevention.

If you are concerned about someone who may be considering suicide, remember these four action steps: ASK-LISTEN-STAY-HELP. Ask openly and compassionately, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ Listen to the person without judgment; avoid trying to ‘fix it.’ Stay with the person if he or she is suicidal; keep him or her safe until help arrives. Help him or her find the right kind of help. Call the Georgia Crisis Access Line (GCAL) anytime at (800) 715-4225.

Speaking of our GCAL line, we await the implementation of an “app” that will extend outreach through texting.

As you can see, we have had a busy year! All of these accomplishments are possible because of our great team, our provider network, and the generous support of Governor Deal and the Georgia General Assembly. Expect this progress to continue at warp speed as Georgia’s needs are pressing, and our perseverance is relentless.

If you would like to learn more about any of the highlights above, please visit our blog.

Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald

DBHDD On The Move September 2019

Hurricane Dorian Evacuation Efforts

DBHDD On The Move July 2019

“Empower – Experts Discuss Mental Health and Addiction.” 
This is panel discussion was moderated by WSB-TVs Jovita Moore at the Cox Corporate Campus.

Georgia Disaster Mental Health Field Response Training class taught by Jeannette David at the Region 1 Field Office. There were 20 people in attendance from the DBHDD, Advantage, Lookout Mountain, American Work, Cobb CSB, Clayton Center, Haralson BHS, and few other small providers.

Region 4 emergency preparedness workshop in Thomasville, GA.

David Sofferin speaking at Dr. Kay Brooks- Hatfield’s retirement reception in Albany, GA

Gov Kemp and Commissioner Fitzgerald Tour EmployAbilitiy

Lorri Smith, Ryan Loke and Cody Whitlock from the Governor’s office toured Georgia Regional Hospital Atlanta with Commissioner Fitzgerlad, Dr. Charles Li, Dr. Mark Cochran, Geneva DaCosta, and Nicola Watson.

2019 Ken Whiddon Memorial Golf Tournament

More photos from the golf tournament

DBHDD On The Move June 2019

DBHDD and Commissioner Fitzgerald were honored to join community partners and elected officials to celebrate the groundbreaking of the newest Behavioral Health Crisis Center in Savannah! Special thanks to the city of Savannah, Chatham County, Gateway Behavioral Health and many others for their innovative leadership and vision to make this vital project a reality.

Below, DBHDD’s Office of Behavioral Health Prevention hosted the State Opioid Response kick-off event Friday, May 31, 2019, at the Delta Flight Museum. Neil Campbell, Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, was one featured speaker.

DBHDD: On The Move May 2019

Spring is in the Air

Spring Greetings! 

On Tuesday, the 2019 Legislative Session adjourned sine die.  It was a very successful session for DBHDD and the people we serve.  The General Assembly continues to acknowledge and support the work we are doing on behalf of vulnerable Georgians by providing millions of dollars in new funding to support items such as the Apex Program (DBHDD’s school-based mental health program), additional NOW and COMP waiver funding, crisis infrastructure and development, substance use disorder treatment, and the continued build-up of vital core services across our state.  While we tracked many pieces of legislation, two key actions will have notable impact our department: the creation of the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission and the new Office of Health Strategy and Coordination within the Office of the Governor. 

The Office of Health Strategy and Coordination is empowered to bring together experts from academia and industry along with elected and appointed leaders in an information-sharing forum that will explore new ideas and evaluate the effectiveness of previously enacted and ongoing health programs.  The office will collaborate with both health related and non-health related agencies.  It also has the authority to evaluate proposed certificate of need (CON) and State Health Benefit Plan updates. We welcome the opportunity to accelerate Georgia’s focus on data-based decision-making.

During the session, I had the opportunity to work jointly with Governor Kemp, Lt. Governor Duncan, Speaker Ralston, and Rep. Kevin Tanner on the Behavioral Health Innovation and Reform Commission initiative.  The commission is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of Georgia’s behavioral health system and making recommendations for innovation. 

In the enabling legislation, the General Assembly recognized the significant transformation that our system has achieved over the last decade.  I am very proud of this transformation and of the efforts of our team of providers, advocates, and DBHDD staff who have led the way for dramatic improvements in our system, the array of services we offer, and the quality of care we provide to the people we serve. 

As we move toward the conclusion of the settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the commission will play an important role in the health care environment of the future.  It serves as evidence that Georgia can exit federal oversight and adopt local strategies for transparency and accountability. As we embrace our next phase of system growth and development, we have a great opportunity to serve by sharing our expertise and knowledge of evidence-based practices.  The commission’s work will stretch over several years and will be composed of 25 members, including a wide range of experts across human service systems. Appointments will be made by the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Among those represented on the commission will be psychiatrists, providers, community service boards, advocates, clinicians, law enforcement, educators, judges, and more.  I, along with other commissioners, will serve as an ex-officio member. 

The commission will examine conditions, needs, and challenges in Georgia, as well as best practices and experiences (including what is working in other states), and report annually to the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker.  I look forward to working with the members of the commission. I am hopeful that those who are selected to serve will be forward-thinking in their approach to future services and support the investments required to deliver quality care.

This is an exciting time in the healthcare landscape, and I am grateful for opportunities to embrace innovation and lead Georgia’s public safety net into the ever-evolving future environment.

You can read more about the purpose and scope of the commission here.

Judy Fitzgerald Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

DBHDD On The Move – March 2019

DBHDD on the Move – Feb 2019

DBHDD Management Academy Cohort #9