Home Again Targets Kids at Risk for Foster Care

Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.

Highland Rivers Health and its supporters celebrated Thursday another tool aimed at keeping local children out of the foster care system.
The brainchild of CEO Melanie Dallas, the Home Again program offers customized help for Floyd County kids, ages 8 to 18, and their families with mental health problems.
“In Georgia, as a whole, we don’t do enough to support families in crisis,” she said. “And Floyd is one of the top in the state for the number of foster kids placed outside their home county.”
She came up with a short-term, intensive, program that teaches children and their parents hw to handle the problems — such as depression, drugs, aggression, self-harm and truancy — that threaten to tear them apart.
“We try to get families so they can live in the home together, Home Again,” Dallas said.
There’s one in Gordon County, and the Floyd County office at 1838 Redmond Circle, Suite E, held a ribbon-cutting Thursday. A third is planned for space in Pickens County.
Dallas said the program is funded by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and will soon be a Medicaid-reimbursable service.

Highland Rivers Health therapist Ricardo Bermudez (left) talks with community support staffer Carol Casey during the Thursday opening celebration of their Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle.
Highland Rivers Health therapist Ricardo Bermudez (left) talks with community support staffer Carol Casey during the Thursday opening celebration of their Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, championed the program by working to ensure start-up funding in the 2016 state budget.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (with scissors, from left), state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Tawanda Scales with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, celebrate the opening of Highland Rivers’ Home Again office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
She said many children who end up in foster care come from families with mental or behavioral problems, including addiction. Home Again targets those issues.

Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (from left), Floyd County Commissioner Larry Maxey, state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Michael Mullet, the organization’ community relations director, celebrate the opening of its Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.
Highland Rivers Health board chair Chief Magistrate Allen Wigington (from left), Floyd County Commissioner Larry Maxey, state Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), Highland Rivers CEO Melanie Dallas and Michael Mullet, the organization’ community relations director, celebrate the opening of its Home Again program office at 1838 Redmond Circle Thursday.

“It could be for the parents. It could be for the child. But it’s to try to get ahead of the situation,” Dempsey said. “We try to keep the family together because, almost always, the child wants to stay with a parent.”
Ricardo Bermudez the program therapist, is currently working with eight families. He said they could be referred through the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice — or by anyone, including teachers, doctors, pastors, neighbors and the parents themselves.
“These are kids who potentially would be moved out of their homes,” he said. “The goal is to re-establish the unity within the families, to stabilize them.”
The Floyd office can serve up to 10 families, Dallas said, but she’s advertising for another licensed therapist and will then be able to double the number.
For information about the program, visit the HighlandRiversHealth.com website, email homeagainfloyd@highlandrivers.org or call 706-784-4175, extension 4702.

Diane Wagner May 19, 2017

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Assertive Community Treatment Improves Outcomes for Individuals with SPMI

A recent DBHDD study found that individuals who participate in assertive community treatment (ACT) experience a significant decrease in both hospital readmission and length of inpatient stay as a result of ACT participation. ACT is a community-based alternative to hospitalization for people who have a severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) which has interrupted their ability to live in the community successfully. It is often referred to as a “hospital without walls” because it provides a full range of treatment and supports that enable individuals with SPMI to live in the community.

Data collected by the department over a 6-month period showed a 56 percent decrease in the number of days of hospital admission and a 69 percent decrease in the number of individuals receiving inpatient services. The sample included 264 individuals enrolled in ACT services.

The study was conducted to determine the short-term effectiveness of the ACT teams in reducing psychiatric hospitalization. Researchers compared the frequency of hospitalizations prior to and during enrollment, and after discharge. Future research will investigate longer-term outcomes of ACT services, as well as other services in the DBHDD continuum of care.

The 22 ACT teams included in this study serve more than 1,400 people in Georgia by providing a full range of treatment and supports to enable individuals with SPMI to live in the community. Services include counseling, medication, case management and peer support. The goal of ACT is to reduce hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness, and to promote community integration. Georgia’s 22 state-funded ACT teams receive oversight, guidance, technical assistance and fidelity monitoring from DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health.

Recovery symposium highlights area resources in southwest Georgia

DBHDD, along with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, and the Albany and Moultrie chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, co-sponsored Transforming 2 Wellness, a regional symposium held in Norman Park on April 29. The program highlighted area resources that help people achieve and sustain long-term recovery from mental health challenges and substance use disorders.

Speakers included individuals from Lee and Terrell counties, as well as other surrounding communities. Materials from exhibitors demonstrated the range of resources for mental health and addiction in southwest Georgia.

“We need to be very aware of what the local efforts are, what the local needs are, what the local gifts and the local talents are and that’s what we really trying to do here,” said Mark Baker, director of DBHDD’s Office of Recovery Transformation, which funds effort to raise recovery projects around the state.

See more photos from the symposium on the DBHDD Fackbook page.

New apartment community will provide housing in southeast Georgia

Last month, the Village at Blackshear opened in southeast Georgia’s Pierce County to provide housing for seniors and individuals with disabilities. The updated one-bedroom units with handicap access were completed after a two-year rehabilitation project of the former Heritage Village apartments.

Financed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in collaboration with more than two dozen private and public entities, the residential community includes a recreation center, library and an office for a counselor from Unison Behavioral Health of Georgia to provide mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities services.

“A village is more than just wonderful buildings, although wonderful buildings help,” said Unison CEO Dr. Glyn Thomas. “But [it’s also] the services we can provide to improve the quality of the lives, improve the health and wellness of all the residents.”

Unison has one licensed clinical social worker and one case manager who provide behavioral health assessments, individual therapy, psycho-social rehabilitation and case management services once a week.

“This has proven to be a great partnership for Unison and the Village at Blackshear, and most importantly, the residents are able to receive most services on-site from Unison staff,” said Janett A. Carter, Unison’s clinical director of behavioral health services.

Unison will provide additional staff time on-site as referrals for residents increase.

Unison Behavioral Health of Georgia is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Unison Behavioral Health of Georgia serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Pierce and Ware counties.

Profiles in success: Advantage Behavioral Health

E. B. is a 52-year-old woman who receives DBHDD supported employment services and participates in the Georgia Department of Community Affair’s Shelter Plus Care housing program. Ms. B. has a history of substance abuse and incarceration, but she had a strong desire to get her life back on a positive track. However, due to her background, many employers were reluctant to hire her.

Determined not to be defined by her past, she enrolled in a peer recovery program, from which she graduated in 2013, and was referred into supported employment services in February 2014. With the help of her employment specialist, Ms. B. applied and was hired for a position as a housekeeper at a Courtyard Marriott in her community. She has been in this position for four months and has learned additional job skills to help her achieve her employment and housing goals.

Advantage Behavioral Health Systems is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. Advantage Behavioral Health Systems serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton counties.

Public invited to comment and suggest improvements to Medicaid waiver programs

In collaboration with the Georgia Department of Community Health, DBHDD’s Division of Developmental Disabilities will host six public forums next month to collect comments and suggestions for the Medicaid waiver programs.

The opportunity to gather feedback is part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ application process to continue operating the Comprehensive Supports Waiver Program (COMP) for another five years. The public is also invited to comment on the New Options Waiver (NOW). Both programs offer home- and community-based services for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

“We would like to reach out to individuals and families who use the services and to advocates and other interested parties to determine what programs are doing well and what could be improved,” said Catherine Ivy, director of community services for the division. She will be presenting the latest information on the NOW and COMP waivers at each of the forums.

Anyone who receives, provides or manages the NOW and COMP waivers is encouraged to attend one of the six statewide forums. Attendees will also participate in a focused discussion with other advocates and can record suggestions for improvements to services.

For locations and to RSVP, please visit http://dbhdd.georgia.gov/nowcomp-community-forums.

Mental Health advocate Ken Whiddon passes away

Georgia remembers tireless peer advocate and provider

kenwhiddonA pioneer of peer support counseling, an advocate of supported employment and a provider of recovery-focused services, William Kenneth “Ken” Whiddon, who lived with serious and persistent mental illness, passed away last week. He was 63.

Whiddon once said, “When you meet someone, they always ask, ‘What’s your name,’ and then, ‘What do you do?’ Work is such an important part of who you are.”

Friends and colleagues share memories of Ken

He saw work as a path to recovery. His career as an advocate and a leader who educated and encouraged support for those in recovery started with an internship at a community mental health center. Whiddon founded a statewide peer-run recovery network, managed state services as a regional director and started his own company, AmericanWork, to provide services to help people with mental illnesses or addictive disorders live fulfilling lives in their community.

His work, which effected tremendous change in the state, did not go unnoticed. He was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases in 2006. In 2014 he was honored by the National Council on Behavioral Health with the Award of Excellence for Employment.

“As a man with lived experience, as an advocate, as a certified peer specialist, as a department administrator, as a provider, and as a friend, Ken’s very extraordinary life not only touched those of us who knew him, but radically moved the cultural needle of the system towards embracing recovery and full lives,” said Wendy Tiegreen, director of DBHDD’s Office of Medicaid and Health System Innovations.

After cycling in and out of state hospitals for 10 years, Whiddon returned to school and secured an internship at a community mental health center, which eventually led to a job at a day service center in Macon.

In 1991, Whiddon, along with other mental health consumers, won a federal grant and founded the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) with the goals of promoting employment to foster independence, and providing training opportunities for consumers, including the Certified Peer Specialist Project. He was GMHCN’s first president and two decades later, the organization hosts one of the largest statewide annual consumer conventions in the nation.

Whiddon served 10 years in direct service and management positions in community mental health centers, a community service board, and as executive director of Georgia’s former Division of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse in region 2.

“Ken was briefly a regional director before he decided that he could get more done as a statewide provider,” said Cythnia Wainscott, who serves on the board of Mental Health America. “And did he ever! Thousands of people have benefited from his work.”

In 1999, Whiddon started his own company to help behavioral health agencies provide supported employment services.  He named it AmericanWork, Inc., affirming “I can work.” AmericanWork collaborates with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and DBHDD to provide recovery-centered core services, specialty services and residential services. Through his company, Whiddon helped hundreds of people with mental illnesses reintegrate into the community after long-term hospital stays.

“[Ken] was a true advocate for those living with a mental illness, the company he created, and its dedication to providing high-quality care,” said former colleague at AmericanWork, Megan Paul. “His passion for supported employment was evident.”

At a meeting in 2001 to discuss the development of community residential sites to relocate several clients who had been living at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, Whiddon said very little, but sprang into action. “Ken found and signed leases in a new upscale apartment complex [within a few days]. Not only did he work fast, but he also had high standards and wanted people with mental illness to have an opportunity to demonstrate to themselves and others that they could be responsible citizens and respected,” said DBHDD regional coordinator Charles Fetner. “Within just a few weeks, 19 people who had been in the hospital for years were living in their own apartment or were sharing one. Ken’s program was not just to relocate these individuals, but to integrate them into community life.”

Bridgeway Village opens

View Point Health held an open house last month for Bridgeway Village, a 30-unit housing community in Lawrenceville for people in recovery from mental illness and addictive disease.

All residents receive on-site supportive services funded by DBHDD, including psychological evaluations, case management, and individual and group therapy.

“[Bridgeway’s] completion means that 30 persons will be able to live independently in their own apartments,” said Jennifer Hibbard, CEO of View Point Health.

Residents will include people who have participated in Gwinnett County’s Mental Health Court. Superior Court Judge Karen Byers, who heads the court, attended the ribbon cutting ceremonies. “Housing is desperately needed, and I’m thrilled that [they] will have access to permanent housing,” she said.

Bridgeway Village was funded in partnership with Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Permanent Supportive Housing Program.

View Point Health is one of twenty-six community service boards in the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ statewide public safety network. View Point Health serves individuals with mental health and addiction disorders and developmental disabilities in Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties.

Profiles in Success: Ronnie

River Edge Behavioral Health Center

When Bonnie moved from Wisconsin to Georgia in the early 1990s, she hoped her mom and brother, Ronnie, would follow. After a visit to the South over the winter, they did. Ronnie, who has a developmental disability, lived with their mom until she passed in 1996.

Photo credit: River Edge
Photo credit: River Edge

Bonnie accepted the responsibility as his primary caregiver with love and compassion, but she also knew Ronnie could, and should, have the opportunity to be more independent. Ronnie participated in community access day services, but as a full-time teacher, being able to meet Ronnie’s needs often required creative scheduling on Bonnie’s part. The residential coordinator of River Edge suggested that Ronnie could live more independently. River Edge helped Bonnie navigate the application and qualifying process to find a home for Ronnie. He now lives with three other adults in a neighborhood with independence supports provided by River Edge.

Bonnie says that Ronnie living in his own home has allowed him to broaden his horizons while allowing her to take care of herself. “Family members shouldn’t be afraid to let go,” said Bonnie. “Too often, we hang on trying to provide all the care needed – more out of guilt than anything.” Bonnie is grateful for the specialized services that help Ronnie achieve independence, but most importantly, she still has a wonderful relationship with her brother. “I have been an active sister and freely express my feelings about Ronnie’s needs and the care he receives,” she said. “River Edge listens and responds.”

Profiles in Success: Lasuandra

Ogeechee Behavioral Health Services

In her teens, Lasuandra was admitted to a psychiatric institution in another state because her parents were unable to support her behavioral needs. After relocating to Georgia with her family, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and later to Ogeechee Behavioral Health Services’ crisis support home. When she first arrived, she exhibited no spontaneous speech and had crying and screaming episodes that lasted up to four hours.

After several months of receiving supports from Ogeechee, including psychiatric care and reassurance from staff, Lasuandra’s daily outbursts decreased. During this time, Ogeechee staff also worked to obtain Medicaid for her.

Knowing that Lasuandra needed the support of a family to thrive, Ogeechee helped her find a host home. From her initial visits with the family, she was included in regular activities. She returned from these visits happy and excited, and shared this verbally with Ogeechee staff.

Soon after settling into her new home, Lasuandra realized that her new family would keep her safe. Today, she has blossomed and become more independent. She socializes with her peers at the Ogeechee Emanuel County Developmental Disabilities day program. She is involved in her community and loves going to the library, where she uses a computer and looks at books. She also enjoys helping her host family prepare meals.

Lasuandra is happy in her new home and enjoys living in the community while still being able to access the services she needs from Ogeechee.