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