Department expands services for young adults

DBHDD’s child and adolescent mental health office is operating under a new name: the Office of Children, Young Adults and Families. The new office will expand its focus to include the young adult population (ages 18–26), which has historically fallen into a gap between adolescent and adult mental health services.

“Young adults have become a target population in the mental health field. Access to care at this critical age can make a significant difference in how someone’s behavioral health develops into adulthood. The new office allows us to focus on people developmentally, not just based on age,” said director Linda Henderson-Smith, Ph.D.

The office will continue to support children, adolescents and their families. Visit our website for more information on the Office of Children, Young Adults and Families.

Additional Resources:

New leadership for developmental disabilities, hospital operations

DBHDD is committed to building and supporting a system of care for individuals with developmental disabilities and behavioral health challenges in Georgia. To achieve this goal, the department is building capacity in local communities to provide easier access to high-quality care.

As the department transitions individuals from the hospital system to community-based care, collaboration between hospitals and community resources is critical. To ensure that each transition is facilitated safely and with focus on individual needs, Commissioner Berry has appointed Dr. Charles Li as director of hospital operations. Dr. Li currently serves as DBHDD’s assistant commissioner of the Division of Developmental Disabilities. He was asked to lead the department’s hospital system because of his significant background in hospital operations and community programs. Dr. Li will direct activities at all DBHDD hospitals and will also serve as regional hospital administrator for Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta, one of the department’s busiest hospitals.

Berry has named Dan Howell as interim assistant commissioner of the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Most recently, Mr. Howell served as acting regional hospital administrator for Central State Hospital. Mr. Howell has extensive experience in program administration and has led similar transition initiatives across the country. DBHDD is conducting a national search to recruit and select both a new assistant commissioner for developmental disabilities and a regional hospital administrator for Central State Hospital.

These actions underscore the department’s confidence that Dr. Li and Mr. Howell will be invaluable assets during the transition to a community-based system of care. Under their leadership, DBHDD looks forward to strengthening bridges between hospital and community-based services and providing better access for all Georgians.

National Rx Drug Abuse Summit comes to Atlanta April 22-24

Actress Melanie Griffith will headline Operation UNITE’s third annual National Rx Drug Abuse Summit at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis next week. The organization was founded in 2003 by U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5) to rid communities of illegal drug use, provide support to friends and family members of drug abusers and to educate the public about the dangers of using drugs.

Organizers expect this year’s summit to top last year’s attendance of nearly 1,000. “The Summit takes a holistic approach to the drug abuse epidemic, bringing together legislators, law enforcement, medical professionals, advocates, educators and many other leaders to focus on real solutions,” said Rogers in a press conference hosted by DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry in January.

The Generation Rx Project (GEN Rx), a program of DBHDD’s Office of Prevention Services and Programs, will sponsor the summit. GEN Rx was created in response to the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse among youth and young adults in Georgia. The program’s objective is to reduce prescription drug misuse and abuse among 12-25 year olds within targeted Georgia counties, Catoosa, Early and Gwinnett. GEN Rx will have an exhibit booth at the summit and will be providing information about the project to attendees.

DBHDD Prevention Team Leader Christopher Wood will present at a workshop (“Building Local Capacity to Prevent Rx Drug Abuse”) during the summit. Wood will discuss programmatic approaches to prevent prescription drug misuse and abuse, and specifically those programs and strategies being utilized by GEN Rx. The workshop will take place on Wednesday, April 23 from 1:30–2:45 p.m.

New director of Deaf Services

Dr. Candice M. TateThis week, DBHDD welcomes Candice M. Tate, Ph.D., as director of the Office of Deaf Services. Dr. Tate is a deaf psychologist fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). She brings over 15 years of experience in therapeutic and assessment services to both deaf and hearing populations. Her work on “Trauma in the Deaf Population: Definition, Experience, and Services” was published by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and has been used as a resource by DBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services.

The hiring of Tate reinforces the DBHDD’s commitment to ensuring that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have service accessibility equivalent to that of the hearing population. Tate’s background gives her a comprehensive outlook on culturally appropriate solutions to workforce and system needs across the state. Her informed perspective will help to refine the department’s service delivery model as DBHDD works with providers to employ a workforce that, wherever possible, specifically includes ASL-fluent staff.

Tate holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Western Michigan University and a doctorate in clinical psychology from Gallaudet University (2005). Over the past eight years, she has pursued her commitment of increasing consumer access to public mental health systems via training, consumer input, policy implementation and program evaluation. In 2008, she started Purple Monarch PLLC, which offers a full range of psychological services from therapy to assessment.

Tate’s own hearing loss was discovered when she was two and a half years old. She was placed in a mainstream school and did not learn ASL until she entered the clinical psychology program at Gallaudet. She developed a passion for helping people with access issues when she worked at a group home for individuals with developmental disabilities during her last two years of undergraduate studies. The experience inspired her to pursue a career in mental health focusing on linguistic and cultural accessibility.

Tate was raised in Montana but has worked across the United States with varied populations in a wide range of settings, including Rochester, NY; Washington, DC; Denver, CO; and rural Montana. Her exposure to different communities gives her a strong cross-cultural perspective. “I am committed to working within Georgia’s diverse deaf and hard of hearing communities to develop and expand an array of culturally and linguistically accessible services and technologies necessary to achieve overall health and well-being,” Tate said. She emphasizes the need for consumer input, “we will be listening directly to the communities and will develop these services based on their self-identified and assessed needs for services.”

Not unfamiliar with Georgia, Tate previously lived in Augusta for one year. She looks forward to being back in Georgia and is excited to join the DBHDD team. Her work will center on the implementation of meaningful system changes to deaf services at the state, regional and local level. “I feel honored to be a part of this change, and I believe that DBHDD has assembled a strong and qualified team that will successfully work together to achieve our vision and goals,” she said.

DBHDD is pleased to welcome Tate. Under her direction, Georgia will be well-positioned to become a leader in providing better access to behavioral health and developmental disability services for everyone the department serves.

New interpreter coordinator joins DBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services

Deb WalkerDBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services welcomed new statewide interpreter coordinator Deb Walker in February. Deb brings almost 20 years of experience as a certified interpreter by the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. In 2003, she completed the Alabama Department of Mental Health’s Mental Health Interpreter Training. She has since been involved in the program as an instructor. Deb also held the “Qualified Mental Health Interpreter” designation (awarded by the State of Alabama) for six years and served as the practicum coordinator for the Alabama Office of Deaf Services for three years while working at Greil Psychiatric Hospital in the segregated Deaf Unit. Deb has lived in Georgia for four years and worked as a community interpreting provider before joining DBHDD.

Deb joins DBHDD’s Deaf Services coordinator Amy Peterson and community liaison Barry Critchfield. The Office of Deaf Services provides access to DBHDD services for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind. “Our office is working to make sure access is provided so that people who are deaf can receive services equivalent to those accessed by the non-deaf population,” Walker said. “We are striving to eliminate communication as a barrier to accessing services.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act places the incumbency on providers to offer interpreters for individuals who are deaf. DBHDD’s role is to facilitate training and coordination for interpreters and to help providers find easy access to certified interpreters.

“We rely on mental health interpreters to facilitate communication between the service provider and the consumer. When it comes to mental health for people who are Deaf, the interpreter has to know American Sign Language (ASL) well enough to be able to distinguish subtle variances in communication,” Walker said.

Currently, Georgia’s mental health interpreters attend the same 40-hour training course provided by the Alabama Department of Mental Health that Deb completed in 2003. DBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services is working to bring the next two steps of credentialing – supervision and evaluation – to Georgia. Under this new system, participants will continue to attend the course in Alabama, then return to Georgia to complete a 40-hour practicum and an evaluation. All three steps will be necessary to carry the designation of “certified mental health interpreter.”

“Any time you bring an interpreter into a mental health assignment, both the Deaf individual and the clinician have to believe that what is being communicated to each other through the interpreter is correct. How do they know, however, that what is being relayed to and from is accurate if no one is able to monitor the interpretation?” said Walker. “Our goal is to make sure that Georgia has a standard by which both parties can feel confident that the sign language interpreter is adequately trained to handle the nuances that are unique mental health appointments. We have a long, exciting road ahead of us but our sleeves are rolled up, and we’re moving forward.”

For more information about DBHDD’s Office of Deaf Services, contact Deb Walker.

RESPECT Institute

Joel Slack, who facilitates the RESPECT Institute in Georgia, originally developed the program at the request of Fulton State Hospital in Missouri. Leadership at the hospital realized that clients often had a solid understanding of what worked best in their rehabilitation. It was thought that this insight could be used to help aide in recovery, but most of them had never been asked to share their stories in their own words.

The first RESPECT Institute began at Fulton State approximately 15 years ago. Groups of 12 met for a 3½ day training in which each participant learned to present his or her story before an audience. After about 7 years of successful implementation at the hospital, Slack obtained grant funding to expand the RESPECT Institute statewide in Missouri. DBHDD brought the RESPECT Institute to Georgia two years ago. Training sessions are held 24 times a year across the state.

Day 1

Participants give an informal introduction using an outline provided by the RESPECT Institute. Each member of the group is able to offer feedback to the other presenters. For homework, individuals write down their stories.

Day 2
Each participant shares his or her recovery story at a podium. These stories are empowering and healing for the presenter and sometimes also very emotional. Following each presentation, the individual offers three pieces of advice learned through recovery. The group helps members develop a message and embed educational components into their stories. At the end of the day, participants are assigned to refine their stories based on the class’ feedback.

Day 3
Participants present their final stories and select three to four individuals to speak at their graduation ceremony.

Day 4
A graduation ceremony is held for all the individuals who complete the program. Graduates finish the RESPECT Institute empowered to tell their stories in any venue.

Upon completing the program, graduates become guest speakers at universities, corporate trainings, civic meetings and more. Outreach coordinator Alfred Brooks helps graduates find venues to share their stories. The RESPECT Institute has been in Georgia for less than two years, but graduates have shared their stories with nearly 20,000 people. Brooks also facilitates an ongoing monthly support group for each class.

“The RESPECT Institute offers life-changing, transformational experiences for people as they learn how to tell their stories. We’ve watched people heal in those three days,” said Slack. “Our graduates are also transforming their audiences by helping people to see the humanity beyond the illness. Once you’re able to see that humanity, it’s easier to treat someone with respect.”

The RESPECT Institute is provided by DBHDD in partnership with the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Networkand Mental Health America of Georgia. There is no cost to participants. To learn more about the RESPECT Institute, contact Mark Baker, director of DBHDD’s Office of Recovery Transformation, To apply, or to obtain a copy of an informational video, please contact:

Jen Banathy, Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network


Albany Area Community Service Board changes name to Aspire


The Albany Area Community Service Board is now operating as Aspire Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Services. “The new name provides a clearer understanding of the services that our agency provides. ‘Aspire’ reflects our commitment to providing BH and DD services to individuals and families as close to their homes as possible as well as providing on-going supportive community services to individuals on their journeys to recovery and independence,” said Executive Director Kay Brooks.

Aspire functions within DBHDD’s community service board system and serves clients in Baker, Calhoun, Dougherty, Early, Lee, Miller, Terrell and Worth Counties. The agency operates a behavioral health crisis center at 601 W. 11th Avenue in Albany. The crisis center is a new service that acts as an enhanced crisis stabilization unit. The center accepts walk-ins 24/7 and combines short-term crisis intervention, counseling services and emergency receiving capabilities.

Aspire opened the crisis center in December, adding to an existing crisis stabilization unit, to provide better and more local access to services for Albany-area residents. The new facility is equipped with 30 crisis beds and 6 temporary observation beds. Brooks says that Aspire continues to be proactive in the community. “We educate clients, family members and stakeholders about crisis services and supportive community services, and we also make sure they know how to access them,” she said.

Aspire’s mission is to offer affordable, accessible, and quality mental health, addictive disease and developmental disability services. These services are provided by skilled professionals who are sensitive to the needs of individuals and families served.

Read more about Aspire in the Albany Herald.

Augusta hospital staff rallies during ice storm

East Central Regional Hospital

Photo by: Harold “Skip” Earnest

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, an ice storm hit Augusta, Georgia, disrupting businesses and leaving hundreds of thousands people without electricity. Before it began, staff at East Central Regional Hospital (ECRH) began preparations for the storm: Vehicles were ready to transport staff to work. Overnight cots were prepared for staff at both the Augusta and Gracewood campuses for those who would be required to stay over. All clients living in houses or cottages were moved to the main buildings where generators would be accessible during power outages. Dietary services and the pharmacy were stocked for three days, with the kitchen prepared to feed staff who remained on campus. Expectations for staff were clearly communicated. A command center was set up for centralized communication and coordination. Contact was made with neighboring partners at Serenity Behavioral Health Systems and the Community Integration Home to offer shelter and assistance if they should require it.

Andrea Brooks-Tucker, CNE, spent the night before at the hospital. She knew that maintaining adequate staffing levels would be critical over the next two days. Other members of the leadership team came in very early Tuesday morning, beating the freezing rain and sleet that began accumulating as early as 8:00 a.m. They strategically split themselves between the two campuses, knowing wherever they were they would probably stay for the next 24 hrs.

At 10:30 a.m., both of the hospital’s campuses lost power. Generators came on as planned. An hour later, power was restored at the Augusta campus, despite weather conditions continuing to deteriorate. The Gracewood campus remained without power. Communication systems, including phone and email, went down. Staff exchanged cell phone numbers, making sure that at least one cell phone was available in each client area in case a 911 call had to be placed. Handheld radios allowed continued contact between buildings.

Photo by: Harold “Skip” Earnest

Freezing rain and sleet continued to fall and accumulate on trees, but roads were mainly slushy at this point. The lack of a working phone system had become a major handicap. Employees calling in could not get through unless they had cell phone numbers to reach their unit or supervisor. Transportation services were operating off a single cell phone, and many calls went to voicemail. While second shift employees began to trickle in, some first shift employees were instructed to stay.

The temperature began dropping in the living areas of Gracewood. Even though the campus is heated by steam, the generators did not supply power to the air handlers that circulate warmth. Mickie Collins, the hospital’s COO, remained in contact with account representatives at Georgia Power, communicating the urgency of the situation.

The Redbud unit at Gracewood houses approximately 100 clients, half of the population at the campus. It is shaped like a wagon wheel, and the “spokes” were beginning to feel the effects of the power failure. The center, called the Rotunda, is a large empty space used for activities. Several weeks prior, a steam leak was suspected under the floor of the Rotunda, as the area was unusually warm. A repair had been scheduled but had not occurred. This defect turned out to be a blessing, as the Rotunda remained warm as the rest of the building cooled. Staff moved clients into the Rotunda, closing off the cooling hallways to preserve the warmth. People across the hospital system were experiencing similar conditions. However, some of the individuals served at Gracewood are medically fragile and prone to hypothermia. Keeping them warm was critical as failure to do so could be life-threatening.

Several options were being explored to restore power. Georgia Power had identified a large fallen tree on the feeder line and would not be able to remove it quickly. Mr. Collins, remembering a transformer outage that had occurred months previously, suggested an alternate feed. Georgia Power began to investigate this option. At the same time, Nan Lewis, the regional hospital administrator (RHA), contacted the state office of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) to explore whether the Georgia National Guard, which had been available to transport staff, could be deployed to clear the tree. DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry was already working closely with Governor Deal, and restoring power to Gracewood had become a top priority for the state due to the fragility of the campus’ population. An option relocate individuals to the Augusta Campus was considered as a last resort.

Photo by: Harold “Skip” Earnest

As night fell and temperatures continued to drop, walking outside from building to building had become dangerous, and many roads were impassable. It was clear that the second shift would not be able to leave as staff scheduled to work the third shift would be unable to traverse the roads. Knowing that conditions would not improve by morning, the possibility of needing to cover three continuous shifts with staff already at the hospital was becoming a reality. As staff had no way to leave or come in, coverage would have to be maintained by allowing relief and rotations. The day shift employees who had already worked a double shift were the first to get a break.

Power was successfully restored to Gracewood at 8:00 p.m. via the alternate feed. The building temperatures rose quickly as the stored steam heat was readily circulated.  Celebration was short-lived, and a little after midnight, power was lost again on both campuses. Georgia Power informed staff that everything southwest of Lumpkin Road was without power and would not be restored quickly. The buildings had warmed up considerably in those few hours, and Gracewood staff kept clients in the Rotunda. Communications went down with the power, forcing staff again to rely on hand radios and cell phones.

The power failure triggered the fire alarm system in the Redbud unit, and the alarm continued to sound hours into the night, despite repeated efforts by the maintenance staff to reset it. The staff tried to reassure and comfort the individuals crowded into the Rotunda and hallway, but the noise along and darkness were disturbing to the clients.

Cheryl Bragg, Director of Dietary Services, had spent the night along with Nan Lewis and Mickie Collins in the Administration Building on cots set up in offices. No one slept much, however, as sounds of cracking limbs, falling trees, and sheets of ice sliding off the tin roofs crashing to the ground were the backdrop for continued updates coming in by cell phone. Ms. Bragg rose before 5:00 a.m. to prepare breakfast for the 200 individuals and staff at Gracewood. Her support staff had not yet arrived, so unit staff convened in the kitchen to help. Aaron Newberry, a dietician and one of the unit staff who had spent the night, began locating appropriate food to prepare. The kitchen generators that provided power for the freezers, refrigerators, lighting, and some ovens, could not support the large commercial mixers and grinders necessary for food preparation for those individuals on special puréed, chopped, or softened diets. Not knowing how long the power would be out, multiple back-up plans began to take shape. Both the kitchen and the units were searched to locate retail blenders. One of the staff began calling grocery stores to find baby food. No stores nearby answered. The ice storm had shut down Augusta in these early morning hours.

Photo by: Harold “Skip” Earnest

Ms. Lewis called the DBHDD state office to inform staff of the second loss of power occurring shortly after midnight, and the bleak picture Georgia Power had painted for swift restoration. Ms. Lewis was advised to call the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) for assistance. A local chapter contacted Golden Harvest, a local food bank, to locate and deliver baby food. Meanwhile, Central State Hospital in Milledgeville was being contacted to explore their ability to send prepared food to Augusta. The search for an open store was successful, however, and a van was dispatched to Wrightsboro Road.

On the Augusta campus, the dietary staff had been supplemented by psychologists, a psychiatrist, and nurses, who organized an assembly line to prepare 200 chicken salad sandwiches for individuals and staff.  A demonstration of team work at its best!

Focus shifted back to restoring heat to Gracewood. Communications continued with Georgia Power. Sister hospitals in Savannah and Columbus offered assistance by transporting generators to Augusta. The possibility of their also providing space heaters was considered, but associated safety risks were too high and this option was ruled out.    Mr. Collins made a decision to remove the switch that toggled the facility between Georgia Power and generator power. This took the campus totally off-line with Georgia power but provided generator power to the air handlers to reheat the buildings. The Army Corps of Engineers, sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), arrived to review the energy situation. After reviewing the physical plant and the plan the Mr. Collins already had in place, they determined they could offer no better alternative.

The van returning from the grocery store on Wrightsboro Road reported that road conditions were good and that transportation services could be reinitiated to pick up employees still reluctant to drive into work. The vehicles that had been used for transport the previous day needed refueling, but most gas stations were closed, and those that were open were only taking cash. A working ATM was located, and after getting in line, the RHA’s personal debit card was used to provide drivers with money to refuel.

On Thursday, temperatures rose quickly, and the ice began to melt. Full power was restored in the early afternoon, and Mr. Collins reversed the switch to put the facility back online. Employees who had weathered the storm were relieved by incoming shifts.  Commissioner Berry visited the ECRH campus to show his support and appreciation to those who navigated the situation and prevented what could have been life-threatening crisis situations.

ECRH had its share of both triumphs and lessons learned. The team came together to make it through those cold, dark hours that felt like days. After the storm had passed, the same team convened to examine what could have been done differently or in advance to better prepare the facilities and staff in the future. Though the ice storm presented many challenges and inconveniences, the teamwork displayed by Governor Deal, Commissioner Berry, GEMA, FEMA, Georgia Power, and all staff at ECRH ensured that clients and staff remained safe.

A meaningful life in the community

Steve Lawson
Steve Lawson welcomes DBHDD staff for a visit.

Steve Lawson, 52, enjoys competing for medals in basketball. He lives in Valdosta and often travels across the state to play. Last month, he went to Marietta to participate with more than 1,500 athletes in the State Indoor Winter Games for Special Olympics Georgia He is also an avid fan of the Georgia Bulldogs, with pictures and collectibles displayed throughout his apartment. However, he had never spent a night away from his parents until two years ago when both passed away within four months of each other.

Steve’s sister, June, worried that he would not fare well on his own, but today, he lives independently in an apartment and receives community supports and transportation services. Steve now engages with his community daily, but he particularly enjoys greeting guests when they come to visit him. Steve’s new lifestyle has afforded him many opportunities to take an active role in living his life, and for June, this assurance has made all the difference. Their story is just one of many that highlights the positive effects living in the community has on individuals and their families.