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.

National Recovery Month Planning Partners Honors Cassandra Price, Director of Addictive Services in the state of Georgia, with the Ramstad/Kennedy Award for Outstanding Leadership

Press Release -Washington, DC (May 25, 2017) – The tenth Annual Ramstad/Kennedy Award for outstanding leadership recognizes Cassandra Price, Director of Addictive Services in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, who is being honored for her leadership in recovery support programs across her state and nationally. The award was established in honor of Congressmen Jim Ramstad and Patrick Kennedy. The two Congressmen have been vocal advocates of recovery support services in all forms, and championed localized efforts to support prevention, treatment and recovery.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  (SAMHSA) recognizes that long-term recovery is not only possible, but is the goal of addiction and mental illness treatment and support programs. The 2017 honoree has worked to spread this positive message and the message that prevention can be effective in helping to break the cycle of addiction in families.

Cassandra designed the program to support families dealing with addiction and those whose loved ones are in recovery.  She is recognized for her leadership and untiring spirit for the field, the state and most importantly for those whose lives have been touched by substance use disorders. “She has worked to engage state agencies and create change, statewide, that will provide enduring resources for residents and encourage recovery for the future benefit of Georgia families and communities,” said Sis Wenger, National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), a Recovery Month partner.

“Together in partnership with the dedicated organizations who comprise the Recovery Month Planning Partners, recovery success stories have become commonplace in Georgia, in part because of Cassandra’s on-going and exceptional commitment,” Wenger continued.

“The recipient of the Ramstad/Kennedy award embodies the innovation of a leader dedicated to support prevention, treatment and recovery in their community. On behalf of over 200 collaborating organizations in the Recovery Month Planning Partners, we congratulate Cassandra on her vision and commitment” said Recovery Month partner Marie Gallo Dyak, President of the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc.

Both Retired Minnesota 3rd district representative Jim Ramstad and Retired Rhode Island 1st district representative Patrick J. Kennedy also championed a mental health and addiction parity law in 2008 requiring easily accessible health insurance coverage for mental illness and addiction treatment.  Together the Congressmen have sponsored Recovery Month and other programs to further therapy, treatment and recovery services for these illnesses across the country. The award in their names honors a recipient who has shown upmost commitment in expanding the prospects for recovery of addicted persons and their families and for persons with mental illnesses.

Media Contact:

Sis Wenger @ SWenger@nacoa.org

Marie Gallo Dyak @ mgdyak@eiconline.org

Peer-run Respites: Effective Alternatives to Hospitals

Georgia was one of 3 States featured in the SAMHSA sponsored webinar, “Peer-Run Respites: Effective Alternatives to Hospitals”. Jayme Lynch, CPS, Director of the first PSWRC (2008), and Roslind Hayes, CPS, Statewide Coordinator of the PSWRCs presented to over 700 webinar participants about Georgia’s five Peer Support Wellness and Respite Centers (PSWRCs), which are operated by the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network through a contract with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities. Georgia’s PSWRCs offer 24/7 peer support over the phone; Wellness Activities 7 days a week; and up to 7 consecutive nights of respite, an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization, that uses a strengths-based approach to focus on realizing opportunities for recovery.

The PSWRCs are managed and staffed by Certified Peer Specialists who participate in on-going extensive training to insure that the center environments are welcoming, comfortable, trauma-informed, safe, inclusive, nurturing, respectful, and supportive of intentionally mutual relationships between staff and guests that allow individuals to learn new ways of seeing and relating to themselves, others and the world. Participation in center activities is free and strictly voluntary; no professional referrals are accepted. Proactive Conversation establishes peer relationships before a respite stay is needed.

To learn more about Georgia’s PSWRCs go to www.gmhcn.org. The archived webinar can be downloaded at http://nasmhpd.org/content/peer-run-respites-effective-alternatives-hospitals-0.

Working on the road to recovery


In the past, people living with mental health challenges were often encouraged not to work. But on the road to recovery, finding purpose through meaningful activities, such as employment, can be helpful.

At East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, the work therapy program aims to empower people with skills learned on the job. The program is guided by several principles and practices, including supported employment that helps people with severe mental illness work at regular jobs of their choosing.

“Through the work therapy program, consumers can become contributors, and people who are isolated can become engaged,” said Work Therapy Coordinator Tiffany Snow.


The scope of work ranges from individual experiences to group experiences that includes hobbies and career exploration to campus job sites. At both the Augusta and Gracewood campuses, individuals have the opportunity to work at the treatment mall, in the central kitchen, with the yard crew, in the library, and in the apparel shop, among other job sites. More than 50 individuals have paid employment, more than 20 individuals are in training and groups, and three individuals are in transitional employment.

Recovery-oriented cognitive therapy (CT-R) also is an important component of the work therapy program. DBHDD staff were trained by the Beck Initiative in 2014 through a series of workshops and weekly consultations.  The work therapy program now utilizes CT-R to help people who may continue to experience symptoms or challenges.


The program continues to expand by strengthening connections with vocational rehabilitation and supported employment providers, and by developing off-campus work and volunteer opportunities.

Forensic Peer Mentor Program Expands to Help More Georgia Returning Citizens

Cohort 3 convened at GDC’s State Offices South at Tift College in Forsyth, GA for the 40 hour Forensic Peer Mentor Training, facilitated by Jill Mays (DBHDD; 1st row, 3rd from the left), Jonathan “DJ” Rees (The Main Link, Pennsylvania; 1st row, 2nd from right), and Sharon Williams (GMHCN; 2nd row, far right).

In 2014, Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Department of Corrections (GDC), and the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) embarked on a partnership to offer innovative peer support to Georgia’s returning citizens through the Forensic Peer Mentor Program. In 2015, the partnership expanded to include the newly formed Department of Community Supervision (DCS). Plans are underway for the program to expand into additional facilities in January 2017.

On November 28, 2016, the third cohort of 15 certified peer specialists (CPS) and certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists (CARES) began the weeklong training designed to help them use their own experience in the criminal justice system and their recovery from a behavioral health disorder to help the people that they will support.  As forensic peer mentors, they will help individuals leaving correctional facilities with transition/release planning; obtaining stable housing; employment; disability benefits; transportation coordination; linkage to community behavioral  health services and recovery supports; and learning new skills.

The training was facilitated by Jonathan “DJ” Rees, a subject matter expert on the forensic peer movement, as well as the Sequential Intercept Model, an emerging best practice that assists communities in identifying points of interception along the criminal justice system continuum where stakeholders can intervene to prevent individuals with mental illness from going to jail/prison due to offenses that may be related to their symptoms.

According to Rees, “when returning citizens are released from jail, they face challenges like discrimination in being hired for a job and finding housing in the community.  Despite these challenges, peer support can reduce the recidivism rate of people returning to jail.”

Upcoming program expansion will include placement of forensic peer mentors at four GDC state prison sites, two DCS day reporting centers, one mental health court, and one DBHDD regional hospital. This expansion brings the total number of the forensically trained CPS and CARES workforce across the state to 37, and increases the number of worksites from 11 to 17.

“Since enrolling our first returning citizen in April of 2015 into the Forensic Peer Mentor program, the program has really taken off,” said Jill Mays, assistant director of DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health and coordinator of the Forensic Peer Mentor Program.  “Data shows that we have been able to greatly increase successful re-entry and reduce the recidivism rate for individuals with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use disorders who are being released from prison or on probation/parole.  Our belief is that with support from the forensic peer mentors and other appropriate community resources, all returning citizens have the capacity to live and thrive in the community.”

DBHDD’s bill passes through the Georgia General Assembly

The Georgia General Assembly concluded the legislative business on March 24. DBHDD’s bill (SB 271) passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor Deal’s review and signature.  This bill makes changes to specific administrative procedures in designated emergency receiving facilities and psychiatric hospitals.  Senator Dean Burke and Representative Buddy Harden were crucial in ensuring the bill’s passage through the General Assembly.

The General Assembly also passed the annual budget which included DBHDD’s recommendations.  Below are some of the highlights of the budget:

  • $8,895,654 for salary adjustments for direct care staff to reduce turnover and improve recruitment.
  • $11,900,000 to reflect a provider rate increase for the Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP) for individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • $1,223,897 for 100 additional slots for the New Options Waiver (NOW).
  • $5,700,000 for one Behavioral Health Crisis Center to address emergency crisis needs for individuals with mental illnesses.
  • $5,065,000 in bonds for a 40-bed forensic unit at Georgia Regional Hospital: Atlanta.

Two other bills of interest include HB 768, which would establish the ABLE Program Corporation and ABLE Trust Fund.  The bill would also authorize the ABLE board to establish a program for tax-exempt savings for people with disabilities. 

HB 900 would give pharmacists the ability to delegate the retrieval and review of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program information to technicians “for the purposes of determining misuse, abuse, or underutilization of prescribed medication.”

Furniture to be upgraded at state hospitals

At the five DBHDD regional hospitals, most of the furniture is more than 20 years old and in various states. DBHDD’s Office of Facilities Management plans to refresh the furniture in all consumer living units, including bedrooms, day rooms, and reception lobbies.

The upgrade project began last month with a hospital furniture expo hosted by Office Interiors in downtown Atlanta. Nearly 50 DBHDD subject matter experts, including doctors, nurses, administrators, and maintenance workers, reviewed furniture from the leading four manufacturers in the health field. They spoke with potential vendors and provided feedback using a scorecard which will be used to begin the selection and specification of the new products.

“Our main goal is to assure that the new assets provide a quality level of functionality, comfort and safety for our consumers,” said Richard Aghajanian, DBHDD’s maintenance director.

The project timeline is currently in the build phase with a goal of completion by next summer.


DBHDD partners with American Red Cross to train disaster mental health volunteers

Even though Georgia has not experienced any major weather disasters since the ice storms of early 2014, DBHDD is always planning and preparing for the next time our employees, providers, and the people we serve will be affected by an incident.  As designated in Georgia’s Emergency Operations Plan, DBHDD is responsible for coordinating all disaster preparedness and response activities related to behavioral health and developmental disabilities.

To support preparedness, DBHDD partners with the American Red Cross (ARC) of Georgia to create a one-day training for ARC disaster mental health volunteers.  This program has increased the number of trained ARC volunteers to more than 200, resulting in increased capacity for response throughout Georgia.  Most recently, DBHDD expanded our collaboration by delivering training for the Georgia Psychological Association on August 14, 2015.  Another class is scheduled for Grady Behavioral Health on October 30, 2015.

ARC disaster mental health volunteers with DBHDD’s Tier One providers to meet the needs of Georgians after a disaster.  Tier One providers are responsible for delivering continuity of care to individuals who receive DBHDD services and for providing emotional support to disaster survivors and responder personnel.  In addition to ARC disaster mental health classes, DBHDD offers classes in disaster mental health field response training four times a year.

Other preparedness activities carried out by DBHDD include:

  • Participation in disaster exercises
  • Assisting DBHDD providers with their disaster plans
  • Developing policy related to disaster preparedness and response
  • Collaboration with other emergency response agencies to ensure that they consider the needs of people served by DBHDD in their plans
  • Cooperation with federal partners regarding disaster planning
  • Implementation of DBHDD All-Hazards Disaster Response Plan during times of disaster
  • Administration of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program when warranted

DBHDD’s disaster preparedness and response program is housed under the Division of Behavioral Health’s Office of Adult Mental Health.  If you have questions or need assistance related to disaster planning and response, please contact Disaster Mental Health Services Coordinator Jeannette David at jeannette.david@dbhdd.ga.gov or (404) 657-2354.

Representing DBHDD in the community

MLinkDBHDD’s Statewide Community Relations Office was established earlier this year to represent the department in the community. Director Michael Link travels across the state to inform organizations of department news and gather feedback on how DBHDD is fulfilling its vision of easy access to high-quality care for the people we serve.

We interviewed Mike to learn more about the Statewide Community Relations Office.

Why was there a need for this new office?
This is the first time we have had someone consistently in the community representing the department and all the disability groups. Commissioner Berry is the primary spokesperson, and he speaks on policy issues and has a relationship with stakeholders around the state to help formulate policy. Once that’s been developed, I go out and explain to people what that policy is and how it works.

So there’s an educational component to your role?
A lot what I’m doing is educational. I tell the story of the department, especially now with the reorganization. [In my presentations], I lead off with our vision and mission statements, how important that is, and how that sets the tone for the work that we do.

Can you describe your responsibilities?
I see my role as a vehicle to tell our story to the greater community and to raise the profile of the department, both as a storyteller and a brand manager. I promote the department as a key resource to community leaders, develop strong working relationship with community groups, and help coordinate communications with external groups.

What types of groups are you visiting?
I meet with community groups wherever they may be; often times to listen, and sometimes to present. I speak to all kinds of groups: community stakeholder groups that have been coordinated by NAMI, Kiwanis groups, community groups that have come together to deal with mobile crisis issues, provider meetings, local advisory council meetings, and other coalitions around the state. I attend standing meetings of the Georgia Behavioral Health Planning Advisory Council, Behavioral Health Services Coalition, and the Georgia Recovery Initiative. I also attend conferences.

How do you coordinate communications between providers and other stakeholders?
I want people to see me as a resource. Many providers are doing great, innovative work and we don’t often know about it. We want to highlight and showcase innovation. If other providers can see this work, we can connect with them and learn from them. I want providers to invite me out, to visit their programs, to see innovations that are producing good outcomes and to be able to share that with other folks.

Tell us about the community forums planned for next year.
The community education stakeholder forums will be held next year across the state. We will be educating the communities about the department and our services and programs. I think there’s a need to make sure we involve the communities in understanding and educating them about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and to gauge the issue of access and quality of services.

If you would like Mike to attend or present at your next community meeting, please email him at Michael.Link@dbhdd.ga.gov or call him at 404-353-6342.

DBHDD partners with Beck Center to provide cognitive therapy training

Graduates of the Beck Initiative from the Region 1 Field Office.

DBHDD providers in north Georgia recently welcomed 20 more graduates of the Beck Initiative, a clinical and educational program that focuses on cognitive therapy training and consultation for community mental health networks.

The training was conducted by faculty from the Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania whose founder and namesake is widely recognized as the father of cognitive therapy and one of the world’s leading researchers in psychopathology. Participants engaged in workshops and hands-on training by working with people in recovery, including individuals with severe mental illness and substance use disorders, and people who experience chronic homelessness.

“The Beck Initiative has been transformative for our state,” said Monica Parker, director of DBHDD’s Division of Behavioral Health. “This evidence-based treatment model provides clinicians, case managers, and many others with tools they can use to not only effectively engage individuals in services, but also produce outcomes that lead to recovery.”

The department’s partnership with the Aaron Beck Center began three years ago with a pilot program in southwest Georgia. DBHDD provided funding to disseminate the Cognitive Training Recovery model across the state to community providers, as well as DBHDD hospital staff. Georgia State University’s Center of Excellence for Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health, a DBHDD partner whose goal is to develop and implement a sustainable System of Care that is individualized and driven by child and family needs, will continue training efforts.

“The training implementation has been successful and we are pleased that hundreds of people have participated and demonstrate a commitment to continuing to use the skills gained through the trainings,” said Parker.

The Aaron T. Beck Psychopathology Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania develops and evaluates treatments for psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and suicide behavior.

Correction: The original story referred to the Aaron Beck Center incorrectly as the Aaron Beck Institute.