DBHDD: On The Move – Mar 2018

Hall County Chamber of Commerce held their first annual “Healthy Hall Awards of Excellence”. This was to honor achievements in healthcare throughout Hall County. In total, there were over 150 nominees throughout the categories. In the category of “Outstanding Achievement in Behavioral Healthcare” – Cindy Levi was the award recipient!! Learn more: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com/news/healthy-hall-awards-given-14-professionals-providers/

Regions 4 & 5 along with Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia and Unison Behavioral Health facilitated the Aging and Behavioral Health Forum – Strengthening the System of Care for Older Adults in Valdosta on Friday, March 2nd. The forum was presented by the Georgia Coalition on Older Adults and Behavioral Health in partnership with The Carter Center Mental Health Program/Emory University’s Fuqua Center for Late-Life Depression. Other presenters included the Mobile Crisis Teams (Benchmark Human Services and Behavioral Health Link) as well as Adult Protective Services, The Public Guardianship Office and the Aging and Disability Resource Connection.

Doug Engle, CIO is Slalom’s Inaugural Customer Love Award Winner


Customer love fuels Slalom’s day to day and speaks to a two-way relationship that can impact all involved on both a professional and personal level.  Because of customer love, Slalom consultants are excited to go to work and their clients like working with them.  Slalom had a long history of celebrating their internal accomplishment and their people, and the time came for them to celebrate those clients that bring out the best in Slalom.  So they thought it was only fitting to recognize their clients that best support them in creating a culture of customer love.

With great pleasure Slalom announced the inaugural annual Atlanta Slalom Customer Love Award that will be presented to an individual that has served as a model client in terms of their engagement of Slalom and their people.  This award recognizes a client with a proven track record of working with Slalom and creates an engagement environment that allows Slalom to fully showcase their core values.

This year Slalom had a very strong list of finalists from their clients throughout Atlanta that were reviewed by their selection committee and with great pleasure Slalom Atlanta announced their 2017 Customer Love Inaugural Award winner, Doug Engle of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities. 

Congratulations Doug on being selected for this prestigious honor by Slalom as you are most deserving of the award and recognition!

View the consultant testimonials

How Doug show’s “Customer Love”

Commissioner’s Corner 03/06/2018

Greetings!  Over the next few months, I will be highlighting some of the exciting transformation efforts underway throughout DBHDD.  We are a department on the move!

The Division of Developmental Disabilities has been at the center of our efforts to transform.  We have multiple service improvements underway.  One element of our system has emerged as an area of great importance: the Planning List for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).  You may already know that many states have planning lists for people with I/DD.  This is a reflection of growing national prevalence, such that demand exceeds current resource allocations.  In Georgia, our list has existed for many years and holds the names of thousands of individuals.  People have been added to the list whether their need is current or urgent.  As a result, it has been difficult to assess the true need in Georgia.

In 2016, DBHDD began the process of reviewing our approach to the I/DD Planning list.  This effort was guided by several key principles: customer service, accountability, transparency, consistency, and operational efficiency.  We wanted to communicate with families about expectations of placement on the Planning List.  The bottom line is that we want to ensure that the I/DD Planning List is accurate and fair.  Individuals with the greatest level of need must be prioritized, regardless of their location in the state.

We made adjustments to outdated staffing patterns and have adopted new tools and technology.  This technology enables two important advancements: First, it allows more consistent and sophisticated analysis of the changing needs of individuals on the Planning List.  Second, more specific and detailed understanding of individual needs helps us to expand additional resources beyond just our COMP and NOW waivers.

We are working hard to make the most of current service systems.  It is essential to have support available as close as possible to where need exists.  As a result, DBHDD added a Planning List Navigator in each of the six service delivery regions in the state.  These Navigators help to address any questions or concerns regarding the Planning List Process.  The Navigators will also connect individuals and families with community-based resources.  To ensure accountability, we have also adopted new performance measures to assess our progress.  We are confident that these improvements will increase accountability and accessibility, while allowing us to remain flexible in a dynamic healthcare environment.

These changes positioned DBHDD to respond to a request from the General Assembly to submit a five-year plan to reduce Georgia’s I/DD Planning List.  This report is available on our website.  It outlines several strategies for consideration, and also recognizes the financial commitment necessary to make an impact.  We would welcome the opportunity to accelerate our pace, and we believe that our provider network can readily respond.

As we continue to implement important improvements, we are mindful of our responsibility to make positive and meaningful changes for the people we serve.  We believe that with appropriate supports and services for individuals and their families, people can live a healthy, thriving life in the community.

My Voice. My Participation. My Board. Concludes Fifth Cohort

University Center Project Reaches Five-Year Benchmark in Self-Advocacy

Atlanta, GA: On December 9-10, 2017, the final meeting of the fifth cohort of My Voice. My Participation. My Board (MVMPMB) was held in Augusta, GA. This gathering was the conclusion of a three-part, multi-day training on self-advocacy, which focused on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) learning how to be effective and engaged members of the board of directors and advisory councils.

Far too few individuals with IDD have had the opportunity to make valuable contributions as members of boards and councils. MVMPMB seeks to change that by training and preparing individuals with IDD to contribute to the work of state agencies, and both for-profit and nonprofit organizations in Georgia and the United States. Project Coordinator, Susanna Miller-Raines, agrees that “having people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on boards and advisory councils as active, participating members and not tokens, is vital to being diverse and inclusive. Their voices, experience and perspectives are valuable.”

Paige McKay Kubik, the Executive Director of the Frazer Center in Atlanta, GA shares how their experience of having a member of their board with a developmental disability has been so important. “[This individual’s] opinions and feedback are critical. They inform and vet board decisions so that [the board is] respectful and responsive to the needs and desires of the people we support,” said Kubik.

The MVMPMB program consists of three components, all of which help participants prepare for and obtain leadership roles. First is “Self-Awareness & Self-Advocacy”. During the first session, participants identify their personal strengths and how they can contribute to a board or council’s success. Liz Weintraub from the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) was the guest lecturer for this weekend. Next is an in-depth look at “What are Boards of Directors and Advisory Councils?”. Members and peer-mentors will be able to identify the characteristics of an effective board member and ways in which their unique gifts and talents fit in that role. The cohort concludes with “Translating Knowledge into Practice”, where members and peer-mentors will take the knowledge that they have gained in Part One & Part Two and practice the skills they have learned through a series of scenarios and the opportunity to network with professionals within the disability community.

MVMPMB alumni have become involved in over 20 boards and councils throughout Georgia. Alumni serve on boards at the Frazer Center and DIG, Inc. Three alumni serve on the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. They also serve on advisory councils for the Autism Plan for Georgia, the CLD, and the Atlanta Autism Consortium.

This project is made possible through a funding partnership between the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

About CLD: The Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) is a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). CLD provides interdisciplinary education, community training, technical assistance, research and information dissemination with the goal of improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities of all ages and their families. CLD is administratively located within the Center for Healthy Development and the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

Commissioner’s Corner 02/06/2018

2018 is off and running.  Between budget and legislative activities, and our ongoing system-wide transformation, we continue to drive toward the end of the ADA Extension Agreement, scheduled for June 30, 2018.  As we focus on these significant strategic priorities, I wanted to take a pause and revisit our “WHY?”.  Why do we embrace our challenging mission to serve some of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens?

By now, you are familiar with DBHDD’s vision of easy access to high-quality care that leads to a life of recovery and independence for the people we serve.  We talk about our vision often, but it takes more than aspiration to keep us on track to make this vision a reality.  It takes a specific focus, commitment, and vigilance.  Values are just pleasant words if you cannot see them in action.  Our “why” is the belief that recovery is real, and independence is possible.

That is why I am so excited to announce DBHDD’s new policy on Recovery, Wellness, and Independence.  This policy touches our entire system: hospitals, providers in our network, and all DBHDD employees.  It codifies our commitment to these three tenets that drive our purpose.  It 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.  We believe that it is important for our employees and providers to be aligned with individuals and families in the goals, values, and principles of recovery and resilience that support independence and wellness.  More than just a conceptual framework, we strive to ensure that services are delivered in a way that honors these values and principles.

In the policy, you’ll find definitions of terms like recovery, independence, and wellness.  Though you may already use these words daily, I encourage you to read the definitions.  You might be surprised at what inspires you as you connect the words to your work and your “why.”

The policy is informed by a series of guiding principles and values that:

  • Convey the hope of recovery from behavioral health challenges. Recovery emerges from hope.  Therefore, convey messages of hope, encouragement, and the belief that recovery is possible.
  • Are informed by the wisdom of lived experiences. Knowledge gained from lived experience is distinct from that gained from education and clinical practice.  Each person’s experiences bring something valuable to the table, so it is critical to engage the unique voice individuals and families.
  • Address trauma.
  • Recognize that recovery occurs through many pathways. Service planning and delivery must be individualized and person-centered.
  • Empower communities by working as partners with the people we serve and those in their support network.
  • Are based on respect, focused on the strengths of the individual, culturally informed, and anchored in wellness.

Additional values and principles are contained within the policy.  As with the definitions mentioned above, I hope each of you will read these closely.  As for me, the most essential word is hope.  I started this year with a spirit of great optimism and hope, and the amazing work I see every day has sustained that energy!

This policy will be significant for our department, our provider partners, and most importantly, the individuals and families we serve, as it guides us toward meaningful work that is centered on making our vision a reality.  You can read the full text here.

I thank you for your tireless commitment and look forward to making continued improvements to our service delivery system that are grounded in recovery, independence, and wellness for the people we serve.



Commissioner Fitzgerald Signature





Judy Fitzgerald

Silent Voice Screaming to be Heard

A lived experience essay by Lorenzo Hardy Jr.

My earliest memories as a child are that I never had a period in my childhood where I was happy. Yes, I had fun moments but there were no months or years that I can recollect that were happy.  My family did not celebrate birthdays, holidays, or participate in school activities. I was not physically abused but I witnessed domestic abuse on a frequent basis. This is not to say I was not loved or point the finger; I believe my parents did the best they knew.

I was an honor roll student who was told on a regular basis that the world was going to end. As I went through elementary and Jr. high school I felt it was not fair that I could not experience the fun I saw other good children having. I REBELLED and joined the basketball team without permission and was told that I had to quit. It was the first time I felt like a part of something other than family. I made the choice to take a full bottle of prescription drugs and went to sleep for what I thought was an eternity (In my ignorance; I took my sisters pills for female problems). I woke the next morning confused, nauseous, and having severe cramps. My mother took me to the hospital after I informed her of my mischief. I received no psychiatric care other than being asked was I going to do it again. No matter how hard I tried to tell everyone that I believed different and wanted a different life, I was always told to do what they felt was best for me.

After high school, I rebelled again and was the first in my family to attend college. During my freshman year, I was accused of a crime which I did not commit and, after suing the state of New Jersey, was given a small monetary award. The reason I received a small amount was because it was determined my older brother committed the crime and if I did not accept the settlement then they would pursue the case against him. This event was all I needed to hit the streets and justify it by saying, “There is no justice so I am going to get mine by any means available.” After numerous run-ins with the criminal justice system, I was sentenced to 2 years in prison. I came home and attacked the streets with a vengeance attempting to make enough money to secure my life. For the first time in my life, I was heard loud and clear. “Uncle Sam” heard me loud and clear.

The Federal Government had an indictment against me and my lawyers told me I would do a minimum of 20 years. This was not acceptable to me. I decided to pay someone to take me out of my misery and leave my children with a great financial start in life. As with everything so far in my life, this failed. I was shot in the head only to wake up in the hospital for a prolonged stay. I had to serve my time.

I went into prison bitter and thinking there is no way I could serve 20 years. I would complain and act out every chance I could. After acting and coming out of the special housing unit, I was playing chess with a gentleman who was serving 7 LIFE SENTENCES. He gave me a prison education I will never forget. He stated, “You keep crying for justice, give yourself the time you think you deserve because you and I both know the things you did. After giving yourself the correct time, ask yourself how many times you got away with crimes; do you really want Justice?”

It was at this time that I started to accept my responsibility and be accountable for my life.  I read over 2000 books and used my new found knowledge to develop new coping skills. Instead of quitting, I started solving my problems and coping with the pains of my choices. I gave others support and used support from others. I realized that HOPE had entered my life and I wanted to become something other than a statistic and stereotype.

Upon release, I went to Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency who paid for my training as a Certified Peer Specialist. Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network became my family and provided countless other training for me including Forensic Peer Mentor.

I am proud to say that I am now a productive citizen with a 775 credit score, I provide volunteer service, and I have been gainfully employed since my release. Ironically statistics show that a person with my criminal background will end up back in prison. I proudly say on this occasion they were right, but I now work at Phillips Transitional Center as a PEER MENTOR.

DBHDD: On The Move – Feb 2018

L to R, Doug Reineke, Representative Gonzalez (Athens), Commissioner Fitzgerald, and David Sofferin at the Capitol for Addiction Recovery Awareness Day.
Pheonix Health Center: CSU Open House
front row – Larry Thompson (Houston Cty Commissioner), Dr. Mark Scott, Houston County Superintendent, Beth Ragan, Tommy Stalnaker , Chairman Houston County Commissioner, Gail Robinson, Houston County Commissioner, Judge Katie Lumsden, Superior Court, Jennifer Trawick, CSU Administrator, Judy Fitzgerald, Sue Davis, CFO, Cynthia Mathis, HR Director, and Rogea Gaymon, Outpatient Clinical Director.
Back row – Stephen Thublin, Assistant Superintendent for Finance & Business Operation of Houston County Schools, Katie Barrs, MH Accountability Court Coord, Dr. Ricky Rogers, Houston County Assistant Superintendent, Charles Briscoe, Houston Health Care COO/Acting CEO, Chrystal Wasden, Specialty Services Clinical Director, Angela Holt, COO, DBHDD, Amy Howard, DBHDD and Mike Ragsdale, IDD Director.
Pheonix Health Center: CSU Open House
Chairman Tommy Stalnaker, Houston County Commissioner
Gail Robinson, Houston County Commissioner
Larry Thomson, Houston County Commissioner
Pheonix Health Center: CSU Open House
Rogea Gaymon, Phoenix Center Outpatient Clinical Director
Casey Burke, Mental Health Accountability Court Case Manager
Chrystal Wasden, Phoenix Center Specialty Clinical Director
Judge Katie Lumsden, Superior Court Judge
Katie Barrs, Mental Health Accountability Court Coordinator
First Lady Deal recognizes Sue Smith
In 2011, First Lady Sandra Deal chose her platform to be “With a Servant’s Heart.” Volunteerism, community involvement and utilizing talents for the betterment of the community is its foundation. As chair of the Georgia Children’s Cabinet, First Lady Deal would like to recognize Sue Smith who embodies “With a Servant’s Heart;” as an outstanding individual who dedicates time and resources to helping children and families. Pictured from left to right are, First Lady Sandra Deal, Sue Smith, & Commissioner Fitzgerald.
Region 4 DD Team wishes Michael Bee, Retiring DD Regional Services Administrator, a happy retirement at a recent team meeting in Thomasville.
Cheree Jackson and Marilyn Bryant of the Region 4 IDD Field Office proudly display the refreshed logo.

The Relation of Negative Career Thoughts to Depression and Hopelessness

Daniel D. Dieringer, Janet G. Lenz, Seth C. W. Hayden, and Gary W. Peterson

Although some research literature focuses on the integration of mental health and career counseling, there has been little that examines both areas in relation to depression and hopelessness. This study investigated the relationship among dysfunctional career thinking, depression, and hopelessness in a sample of 139 undergraduate and graduate students seeking drop-in or individual career counseling services at a university career center. The authors found that two aspects of dysfunctional career thinking, decision-making confusion and commitment anxiety, accounted for a significant amount of variance in depression. Decision-making confusion also accounted for a significant amount of variance in hopelessness. Implications for counseling practice include the need for more careful screening of career clients who present with high levels of anxiety and negative thinking. Future research could involve more diverse client populations, such as unemployed adults, and explore the use of additional screening measures to assess the intersection of career and mental health issues.


Read the complete article here.

DBHDD at the Georgia Mutual Aid Task Force Meeting

DBHDD was center stage at the Georgia Mutual Aid Task Force meeting on June 16, 2017. The MATF is a quarterly meeting held at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, GA, and attendees representing healthcare organizations from all over the state meet to share ideas and best practices in emergency preparedness.

bh 1
are Babs Hall (Aspire BHS), Steve Herndon (DBHDD), Catherine Ivy (DBHDD), Sabrina Tuten (Unison BH) and Jeannette David (DBHDD)

DBHDD’s Catherine Ivy, Director of Community Services for the Division of Developmental Disabilities, gave a presentation highlighting the shift from an institutional-based model of health care delivery to a community-based system of care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ms. Ivy emphasized the importance for disaster planners to have an understanding of the needs of this populations so they can collaborate with service providers to meet those needs during times of disaster.


Steve Herndon, Project Director for the Georgia Recovery Project, works out of DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health in Division of Behavioral Health. Mr. Herndon gave a presentation on the Georgia Recovery Project, which is a FEMA funded crisis counseling program for the survivors of the January 2017 tornadoes in South Georgia. The GRP operates out of Aspire Behavioral Health Services serving Dougherty and Worth counties and Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia and serving Berrien, Cook and Turner counties. The GRP is a program that provides outreach to the tornado survivors and services include: individual and group counseling, psychoeducation, assessment, referral and linkage to resources.

There were representatives from two CSBs at the MATF meeting as well. Sabrina Tuten from Unison Behavioral Health was there with her local disaster planning partners from the Region M healthcare coalition in southeast Georgia. Region M’s leadership comes from Memorial Satilla Health and GA Department of Public Health District 9-2 in Waycross. Babs Hall, from Aspire Behavioral Health out of Albany, GA, also attended the meeting. Ms. Hall is the Team Leader for Aspire’s GRP and oversees all aspects of the crisis counseling program for Dougherty and Worth counties. In addition to supervising 13 staff members, Babs has done an excellent job networking with other agencies involved in the tornado recovery and she’s had much success marketing the program through local media outlets.

Behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities have always been underrepresented at MATF and other disaster planning meetings but it doesn’t have to be that way. Providers are encouraged to attend future meetings and get involved with their local healthcare coalition. The next meeting of the MATF is on Friday, September 15, 2017 at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, 1000 Indian Springs Road in Forsyth, GA from 9:00 AM to 2:30 PM and lunch is provided. Attending one of these meetings is a great way to meet your local disaster planning and response partners and learn about trends and best practices in the field of disaster preparedness and response. If you’d like more information about MATF and disaster planning contact DBHDD’s Disaster Mental Health Coordinator, Jeannette David, at Jeannette.david@dbhdd.ga.gov.

Independence in its Deepest Meaning

Happy Summer to all! The transition to a new season on the calendar offers an opportunity to reflect upon the previous months and also peek forward into the weeks ahead.

Summer represents different things to each of us. For some it is the relief from school schedules, for others, the promise of a planned vacation, and still others, the joy of ballgames or concerns about sweltering heat. One element of summer that brings us all together is the celebration of July Fourth. There is something about the waving of the Red, White and Blue of our nation’s flag that brings us together and compels us to think about the gifts of freedom and independence. Hot dogs in hand, with family and friends we honor both the idea of independence, and also the reality of the liberties that we enjoy. It is a great way to unify in celebration.

Of course, independence has additional meaning for DBHDD team members, and our partner providers and advocates. We strive to promote independence and integration into the community for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) each and every day. Creating opportunities that allow for individual advancement is our mission, and I thank all of you for your collective commitment to demonstrating that Georgia can be a leader in this movement toward recovery and independence. Like every civil rights movement before it, the drive for people with disabilities to achieve more has been bolstered by very capable individuals that inspire and challenge us to push forward. Sometimes that requires assistance from DBHDD, and other times, that requires us to step out of the way. We are working hard to do both, so that our administrative necessities do not stand in the way of independence, but instead, facilitate it.

In June, I had the privilege to share in a celebration of Georgia’s leadership for people with disabilities. Governor and Mrs. Deal hosted a press conference at the Capitol to celebrate the launch of Georgia’s STABLE program. STABLE is the fulfillment of federal legislation designed to enhance the ability for people with disabilities to save and invest without losing benefits. It is tax-free savings plan that allows for qualified disability-related expenditures through the use of a STABLE card. You can learn more about this progressive program through the link on the DBHDD website or directly at Georgiastable.com. The press conference featured DCH Commissioner Frank Berry, Chair of the Georgia’s ABLE Board, Rep. Lee Hawkins, sponsor of Georgia’s ABLE legislation, and Tena Blakely, representing advocates and providers in Georgia. Governor Deal’s personal pride and commitment to people with disabilities was on full display. The wind beneath the wings of this effort is most certainly individuals that motivate us through individual courage and achievement. It is a proud step forward toward individual independence for people with disabilities.

This reflection upon freedom offers an additional opportunity for gratitude. This expression of thanks is to our veterans that bravely answered the call to serve our country and many of whom answered a similar call to serve Georgia’s most vulnerable individuals. DBHDD and our provider network employ numerous veterans, and we want to thank each of you for your commitment to serve. We honor your courage, dedication, and the selfless work you do each day. At our state office at 2 Peachtree, we are inspired every day by Dr. Emile Risby, DBHDD’s Medical Director. Dr. Risby is a Colonel in the United States Army Reserve and embraces this duty with the same enthusiasm that he leads our hospitals. This is further evidence that the goals and values we strive to achieve are often embodied by those right in front of us.

Happy Independence Day to us all!

Judy Fitzgerald, Commissioner
Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities