DBHDD On The Move June 2019

DBHDD and Commissioner Fitzgerald were honored to join community partners and elected officials to celebrate the groundbreaking of the newest Behavioral Health Crisis Center in Savannah! Special thanks to the city of Savannah, Chatham County, Gateway Behavioral Health and many others for their innovative leadership and vision to make this vital project a reality.

Below, DBHDD’s Office of Behavioral Health Prevention hosted the State Opioid Response kick-off event Friday, May 31, 2019, at the Delta Flight Museum. Neil Campbell, Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, was one featured speaker.

DBHDD: On The Move May 2019

Introducing My GCAL

Greetings and welcome to (almost) spring, whether the temperature agrees or not!  We have really hit the ground running this year, and it is hard to believe that we are only two months into 2019.  Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the Capitol, which signals the last day for bills to cross over from one chamber to the other, providing a path to become law.  Health care has been a priority in 2019, and we are grateful for the relationships we have built that allow us to serve as a resource to Governor Kemp and members of the General Assembly.  

Greetings and welcome to (almost) spring, whether the temperature agrees or not!  We have really hit the ground running this year, and it is hard to believe that we are only two months into 2019.  Thursday is “Crossover Day” at the Capitol, which signals the last day for bills to cross over from one chamber to the other, providing a path to become law.  Health care has been a priority in 2019, and we are grateful for the relationships we have built that allow us to serve as a resource to Governor Kemp and members of the General Assembly.  

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of standing beside the Governor and First Lady Marty Kemp when he announced the release of a new tool focused on Georgia’s youth, the My GCAL app.

This app is an additional way for people to connect with the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL), DBHDD’s 24/7 statewide helpline that provides free and confidential access to crisis and routine services for mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

For more than a decade, GCAL has helped hundreds of thousands of Georgians get the care they need through the crisis and referral line.  However, we know that people under 25 are much less likely to make a phone call for help than any other age group.  They prefer to text and chat online, and our service delivery systems must adapt to be relevant.  During the 2018 Legislative session, Chair Katie Dempsey, one of Georgia’s many champions for children’s mental health, led the charge to secure additional funds to make this technology upgrade a reality.

Young Georgians today are under more pressure than any generation before them.  Rates of anxiety and depression for teens are on the rise. Adolescence is a critical developmental age.  It is also an age when many people are not comfortable telling a parent or teacher that they need help.  It might also be difficult to know what to do if a friend is struggling.  This can have tragic consequences for Georgia families.  In the last two decades, the rate of suicide in our state increased by 16 percent, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth nationwide. 

These facts compel us to craft new solutions and resources.  DBHDD and our partner Behavioral Health Link, which operates GCAL, designed My GCAL.  The app provides the same professional, confidential response as the GCAL.  Users can text or chat with caring professionals trained in crisis management and de-escalation.  The app can also call GCAL, which means they do not need to save or remember the number. 

My GCAL is available on iOS and Android.  Please urge those you love to download the app today.  You might be able to connect someone to lifesaving help.  We are fortunate to live in a state where such a unique, lifesaving resource is at our fingertips.

Judy Fitzgerald Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

2019 is Off and Running!

2019 is off and running! I hope that you enjoyed a season of rest, reflection, and gratitude and are geared up for a productive year ahead. Georgia’s public safety net for people with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities has never been more vibrant or more vital to the health care landscape.

As Governor Kemp’s administration steps into leadership, we have heard loudly and clearly that there is a strong commitment to health care improvements, especially in rural areas. As national and state attention sharpens the focus on access to care, we embrace the opportunity to demonstrate our increased accountability and transparency throughout our service delivery system. We also emphasize the importance of the health and support needs of the individuals we serve through our five state hospitals and network of community-based providers throughout the state. With nearly 22,000 individuals served through the NOW and COMP waivers and through state and family support funds, and nearly 160,000 receiving mental health and substance abuse prevention and intervention services, our work is essential to the health of Georgia’s children, adults, families, and communities.

Of course, we do not do this work alone. While I am dependent upon a team of purpose-driven executives and DBHDD team members in every corner of Georgia, we also rely heavily upon the wisdom and experience of our partners.

This recognition of the value of partners is an important element of my reflections on 2018. I am so proud of the partnerships we have strengthened in the last year. Our partners work tirelessly in the face of workforce and funding challenges. Together, we will continue to grow and enhance our service delivery system so that we remain a reliable and accountable partner in Georgia’s dynamic health care environment. When we speak with a shared voice about individuals and families we serve, people listen. There has never been a more important time to promote recovery and independence, as these are the outcomes that real people and communities want to experience. While our priority is building on our strengths, we acknowledge the gaps in our system that require continued attention and collaboration. These gaps will also be at the forefront of our work.

Not only have we deepened partnerships with current allies in the General Assembly and in the community, with Community Service Boards, private hospitals, Sheriffs, judges, advocates, and sister agencies, but we have found new partners in universities, the farm community, Association of County Commissioners, Georgia Municipal Association, business leaders, and others deeply concerned about suicide and the opioid epidemic. We will continue the important conversations that were borne of our shared concerns.

In closing, I want you to know three things you can expect from DBHDD in 2019. First, partnerships will be at the forefront of our strategic decisions. We simply cannot be successful without collaboration and relentless communication. I want people to experience DBHDD not just as a partner, but a predictable and principled partner that seeks to listen and learn as we fulfill safety-net obligations. The second thing that you can expect is that we will continue our drive toward accountability and transparency. Governor Deal and the General Assembly generously supported our buildup of community services in recent years, and we want to demonstrate explicitly the ways in which we are improving the lives of Georgians with the dollars that have been invested. We are not perfect, but we sure are persistent. Finally, you can expect optimism. We believe that the needs of individuals with behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families are a reflection of Georgia’s commitment to vulnerable citizens. We know that Governor Kemp’s administration will advance the momentum we have already achieved. We intend to place Georgia at the forefront of states that possess the hearts and minds to deliver effective and efficient care that results in improved quality of life throughout our great state.

We look forward to doing this together!

Judy Fitzgerald

A Year in Review

Earlier this year, I shared the story of DBHDD’s transformation from a system that was inconsistent and fragmented to an accountable and transparent continuum of care for all people we serve. While this dramatic transformation has unfolded over the last decade, the past year has been marked by an intensification of progress. As 2018 comes to a close, I would like to thank all of you for the passion and partnership that characterize the following highlights of Georgia’s achievements.

Children’s Mental Health

Last year, I had the honor of serving as co-chair of Governor Deal’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health. We made eight recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly, including strategies for enhancing school-based mental health services, crisis services, suicide prevention, education and prevention of opioid use, telemedicine infrastructure, and training on evidence-based practices. In March, Governor Deal and the General Assembly invested more than $20 million to accomplish goals in each of these critical areas.

Recovery, Wellness, and Independence

For DBHDD and our hospital and provider community, our mission is to facilitate recovery, wellness, and independence. These three tenets drive our purpose, and this year, we codified our commitment in policy to deliver a clear message about who we are and what we do. The policy 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. It is an important summary, our “Why” as an organization, and you can read it here.

Intellectual and Developmental Disability Planning Lists

In 2016, we began reviewing our approach to the I/DD Planning list to ensure that individuals with the greatest level of need were prioritized, regardless of their location in the state. Since then, we have adjusted outdated staffing patterns and adopted new tools and technology to support more consistent and sophisticated analysis of changing needs and to improve access and communication. For more information, please see our Multiyear Planning Lists Strategic Plan.

Center for Wellness, Hope, and Learning

In March, we opened the new Center for Wellness, Hope, and Learning at Central State Hospital. The center consolidated the hospital’s treatment mall services into one innovative, state-of-the-art facility designed to support recovery in an education-like environment. The center follows a recovery model focused on hope, wellness, respect, and self-responsibility while helping people learn practical skills that prepare them for a life beyond the hospital. Each of our hospitals has adopted thoughtful design advances that demonstrate a modern, hopeful, and skill-based approach to treatment.

DBHDD as a Learning Organization

One of the things that set’s DBHDD apart is our commitment to embody the principles of a learning organization. We believe that team members should have opportunities to grow and develop through awareness of self and others.

Our Office of Human Resources and Learning supports our evolution as a learning organization by working to ensure that we have a skilled, trained, engaged, and high-performing workforce to meet the needs of the people we serve. Our suite of development opportunities includes a new model for hospital staff orientation, training programs for our staff and community providers, learning systems and content development, and a Management Academy for emerging leaders. We are also training our team members in the Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) to enhance our effectiveness through improved communication. As we strive for excellence in all we do, we want DBHDD to be a place where meaningful and mission-driven work occurs.

Fighting on the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic

As Georgia’s opioid authority, DBHDD is responsible for the prevention, treatment, and recovery elements of our statewide response to the opioid epidemic. In 2017, we received SAMHSA’s two-year State Targeted Response (STR) to the Opioid Crisis grant ($11.8 million per year), which we have put to work providing naloxone training and kits, public services announcements, expanded medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs, a peer warm line, recovery coaches for emergency departments, and education for providers.

In September of this year, we were awarded SAMHA’s State Opioid Response (SOR) to replace the STR funds which end in April 2019. The SOR grant provides $19.9 million per year for two years and will allow DBHDD to expand and sustain the work set in motion through the STR grant.

In addition, we received $4 million in new state funding (FY 2019) to support statewide implementation of Addiction Recovery Support Centers, an essential, peer-led element of the recovery continuum. We also engaged with the Georgia Department of Public Health to develop Georgia’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan, and we serve on Attorney General Chris Carr’s Statewide Opioid Taskforce.

Information Technology Transformation

In the last five years, our information technology (IT) system has profoundly transformed. DBHDD’s IT improvements are not just about new software and gadgets. We have enhanced security, provider data, technology supporting clinical oversight for high-risk individuals, forensic evaluation tools, employee support, application development, and support, hospital and enterprise reporting, and more. While these improvements enhance our ability to accomplish daily work, the real impact is on our ability to provide more efficient and responsive care to the people we serve.
Suicide Prevention
With the alarming statistic that suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between ages 10 and 34, suicide prevention is one of DBHDD’s top priorities. We use a data-driven approach to facilitate suicide prevention coalitions that work with faith, business, and civic leaders, and community service boards and other local providers to train and educate. This year, we supported training of approximately 600 providers and community members in two proven gatekeeper suicide programs: Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Each of us has a role to play in suicide prevention.

If you are concerned about someone who may be considering suicide, remember these four action steps: ASK-LISTEN-STAY-HELP. Ask openly and compassionately, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ Listen to the person without judgment; avoid trying to ‘fix it.’ Stay with the person if he or she is suicidal; keep him or her safe until help arrives. Help him or her find the right kind of help. Call the Georgia Crisis Access Line (GCAL) anytime at (800) 715-4225.

Speaking of our GCAL line, we await the implementation of an “app” that will extend outreach through texting.

As you can see, we have had a busy year! All of these accomplishments are possible because of our great team, our provider network, and the generous support of Governor Deal and the Georgia General Assembly. Expect this progress to continue at warp speed as Georgia’s needs are pressing, and our perseverance is relentless.

If you would like to learn more about any of the highlights above, please visit our blog.

Commissioner Judy Fitzgerald

Commissoner’s Corner October 2018

Greetings! It’s finally Fall, even if it doesn’t feel like it outside. While it may still be a while before we have sweater weather, this is the season when we start reflecting on the past year and drawing closer to our family and friends. It’s also the time when we think more about giving. And it’s time once again for Georgia’s annual State Charitable Contributions Program (SCCP). This year’s theme is, Shaping Our Future Through Giving.


In addition to the honor of serving as your Commissioner, I am privileged to serve as Chair of the 2018 campaign. I have embraced this role with enthusiasm because of one known truth: our team at DBHDD is generous. Every day, I see you serving people and demonstrating kindness in both large and small ways. I am proud to work alongside you, and I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation for your tireless service to our state and the people who live here, our neighbors.

In my role, I am able to connect with thousands of public servants across Georgia and witness the difference each person makes. The work of DBHDD touches thousands of lives, and yet so many more in Georgia have unmet needs that can be supported by local and statewide charities.

As SCCP Chair, I am counting on our team. For DBHDD employees, who already do so much for the people we serve, this is an opportunity to extend our goodwill further throughout Georgia and the world. We know that Georgians count on us each day to deliver essential services in all corners of the state. Our work is challenging, and also rewarding, and it is easier to make progress when our economy is strong, and people are optimistic about the future.

So I ask you, please. Please consider contributing. Even a dollar per pay period can make a real difference to someone who needs it. Please join me in setting a goal of 100% participation by DBHDD employees. No amount is too small for you to be a part of this important effort.

If you are ready to make the commitment, simply click this link through October 31, and follow the prompts. You will see how easy it is to select organizations or causes of your choice, and let them know that you value their work with your giving. Your contribution matters.

Inspired by Robert T. Bennett, a small act of kindness can light a candle in the darkest moments of someone else’s life. Thank you for your support. I look forward to joining you as together we kindle the flame of generosity.


Judy Fitzgerald
Commissioner of DBHDD and Chair of the 2018 State Charitable Contributions Program

Commissioner’s Corner September 2018

Greetings, DBHDD supporters!  September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and this is an especially important issue to discuss right now.  In fact, talking about suicide out loud—regularly, repeatedly, and thoughtfully—is part of the solution.  I’ll say more about what YOU can do regardless of your age, skill level or background.  But first, let’s remember what we ALL can do, and that is to offer a message of hope.  Each life matters, and we know that help is available.  We also know that treatment for issues related to mental health and addiction can save lives.  Hope comes in the form of the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL).  In every way possible, please share the number: 1-800-715-4225 to increase awareness of the support that is available 24/7 statewide.

Now let’s talk about what DBHDD is doing in response to the fact that suicide rates have increased at a disturbing rate across the country.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between ages of 10 and 34.  Our alarm and concern must be grounded in an evidence-based, multi-tiered approach that reaches individuals, families, caregivers and communities, and uses public policy, education, prevention and intervention strategies, and community planning to confront this problem.  Using research data to drive priority target populations and geographic areas, we facilitate suicide prevention coalitions that work with faith, business, and civic leaders alongside community service boards and other local providers to disseminate education and training and to promote access to GCAL and community-based services.  If the tragedy of suicide occurs, our partners work to mitigate the risk of contagion by providing grief support, making physical contact for emotional respite, and most importantly, helping reduce the stigma of mourning the loss of a loved one by suicide.

Through a network of suicide prevention experts, DBHDD supports training and technical assistance to grow professional and organizational capacity building, so that providers can offer 21st century suicide prevention support; address the most complex cases of mental health and substance abuse disorders; and ensure that more Georgians who are at-risk for suicide behaviors are screened and connected to care.  

So far in 2018, through our collective internal and partner efforts, approximately 600 providers and community members have been trained in two proven gatekeeper suicide trainings: Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).  Additionally, DBHDD supports evidence-based and best practices to target suicide screening and interventions for vulnerable individuals, such as youth and young adults; people with specific mental health diagnoses, substance use disorder history, chronic health conditions; and those with prior documented attempts.  A focused statewide effort includes collaborating on multiple levels in all six regions of the state, working with community service boards, the Georgia Department of Education, colleges/universities, civic organizations, law enforcement, public and private clinicians, community groups, suicide survivors, and many, many other stakeholders.

It’s important to understand that when it comes to suicide prevention – there is something YOU can do.  If you are concerned about someone who may be considering suicide, remember these four action steps: ASK-LISTEN-STAY-HELP.

Ask openly and compassionately, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’  Listen to the person without judgment; avoid trying to ‘fix it.’  Stay with the person if he or she is suicidal; keep him or her safe until help arrives.  Help him or her find the right kind of help.  Call the Georgia Crisis Access Line (GCAL) anytime at 1-800-715-4225.  Together, we have the power to decrease the prevalence of suicide and reduce its devastating impact on families and communities in Georgia.

Commissioner’s Corner August 2018

By now, you’ve probably heard me talking about our remarkable transformation story.  You’ve heard me brag on our talented and dedicated team at 2 Peachtree, in our regional field offices, and our state hospitals, as well as in our network of community-based providers.  If you were part of our system in 2009, you remember that Georgia’s public safety net was inconsistent, fragmented, underfunded, outdated, over-reliant on hospitals, and lacking capacity to serve people in the community.  In a word, it was broken. 
Today, after a decade of transformation, DBHDD is a consumer-focused, innovative, and responsive leader in behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities, both in Georgia and across the nation.  In my May column, I highlighted many changes to our community service delivery system, managed by our Divisions of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Today, I want to talk about a less visible but no less significant piece of our transformation: our information technology system. 
The health care environment of the future demands modern technology and a nimble workforce that can adopt new and evolving digital skills.  Under the leadership of our Chief Information Officer Doug Engle, DBHDD has embraced a state-of-the-art approach to information technology.  DBHDD’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) supports our 5,000 employees working in the state office, our six regional field offices, and our five hospitals.  While you may not think about IT unless you have a problem with your computer, their work undergirds everything that we do.  
In the last five years, our IT system has profoundly transformed.  IT improvements are not just about new software for staff.  They are directly leading to efficiencies and better care for the people we serve.  You don’t need a technology background to understand how DBHDD’s many IT advancements are making it easier for us to do our jobs and to support easy access to high-quality care for everyone who is touched by our department. 
Below are just a few of the advancements that are in progress or will be launched soon.


  • An enhanced cybersecurity policy protects the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our systems, networks and data, and helps staff recover their business processes after computer or network security incidents.New cyber incident response teams provide a quick, effective, and orderly response to computer-related incidents, such as viruses, hackers, or the improper disclosure of confidential information.

Provider Data

  • The Office of Provider Certification and Service Integrity under the Division of Accountability and Compliance now uses an integrated platform for collecting, tracking, and reporting provider assessments, as well as resolving any issues identified in the assessments. This platform makes the provider review process more efficient by automating reporting and consolidating data.  It significantly reduces the amount of time spent on almost every step in the process.  It also provides easy access to reports and analytics, helping us meet our goal of ensuring high-quality care across our entire provider network. 

Clinical Oversight for High-Risk Individuals

  • The Office of Health and Wellness’ Statewide Clinical Oversight Application is a web-based tool used to document and track events/incidents for high-risk individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) receiving Waiver services.  It supports the timely, systematic, and comprehensive attention necessary to adequately resolve or address identified events/incidents with the goal of reducing morbidity and mortality risks.  The tool enables:
    • Increased visibility and accountability on all oversight processes statewide;
    • Improved collaboration and communication among; and
    • Data-driven decision making through centralized and standardized data collection.

IDD Service Review Technical Application (SRTA)

  • The SRTA applications helps 30 evaluators track more than 200 health, wellness, and safety data elements of more than 400 high-risk individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have been transferred from our hospitals to a community residential setting.

Forensic Evaluation Logistix

  • The Office of Forensic Services has been working closely with OIT to develop a new web-based tool to document and manage court-ordered competency evaluations and the assignment of the evaluations. The Forensic Evaluation Logistix (FELIX) application will facilitate collaborative and timely management of competency evaluations.  This is being achieved through increased visibility of all court-ordered competency evaluations and annual evaluations within a single application.  Through the consolidation of forensic evaluation data collection, there will be improved dashboards, reporting, and oversight.   In return, the Office of Forensic Services will have an application that enables data-driven decision making and accountability.  The FELIX application is planned to be released this month.

Customer Service

  • The new work request management tool uses a ticketing system to track and monitor computer- and technology-related issues for employees, so that they can be resolved in an organized and timely manner. It also provides metrics to allow OIT to see where and how frequently various issues occur.  DBHDD staff can submit work requests through the OIT homepage in SharePoint.  
  • OIT developed an application to identify and track DBHDD hardware assets and locate them quickly if lost or stolen. This helps ensure that protected health information and other confidential material is secure.  The application also enables more efficient updates.  The use of this application has reduced monthly billing costs by $10,000, and led to a 17 percent decrease in assets not in use and a 65 percent decrease in reserve assets.

While the benefits of DBHDD’s IT enhancements are felt across our department, many efforts been targeted around helping our hospitals improve patient care. 


  • A new fiber network and other enhancements, including the addition of campus-wide wireless Internet, have been piloted at Georgia Regional Hospital-Atlanta with future expansion planned for other hospitals.
  • OIT continues to work with our business partners to provide refreshed and up-to-date laptops, tablets, and desktop computers across our agency.

Application Development and Support

  • OIT has developed, and continues to develop or enhance, several hospital-based applications, including Avatar, our electronic health records system.  Future Avatar modules will be able to quickly and securely exchange referrals with external provider organizations; send and receive clinical data, lab results, and treatment plans; and incorporate external data directly into individuals’ medical charts.

Patient Care Enablement Project

  • This initiative improves care by fostering an environment in which staff are informed, connected, and accountable by creating standardized workflows and training modules; communication and on-the-job skill development; and the ability to measure the adoption rate of these new features by staff.   

Hospital and Enterprise Reporting

  • An enhanced data reporting system provides reliable reports via a simple tool that allows fast and easy access to information, as well as the ability to monitor individuals (including those at high risk), pinpoint data input and timeliness issues, and collect relevant information for decision making. The system also standardizes required data collection across our hospitals.

I am so proud of our OIT staff and the many technological enhancements they have brought across our system.  While these efforts certainly make it easier for staff to accomplish daily work, the real impact is on our ability to provide more efficient and responsive care to the people we serve.

Commissioners Corner July 2018

Hello and happy summer! For many, July holds holiday and vacation fun amidst the heat of summer in the South. At DBHDD, July is a time of transition, with the closeout of one fiscal year (FY 2018) and the start of the next one (FY 2019), while planning for the following year (FY 2020). We kick off FY 2019 with grateful acknowledgment of Governor Deal’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health, and the support from the General Assembly, which invested more than $20 million dollars in priority services and supports to address the behavioral health needs of Georgia’s youth and families.

Our system-wide work continues with great momentum, but there is one area of concern that I would like to highlight: DBHDD’s role in Georgia’s response to the opioid epidemic. Recurring headlines and your own family and community experiences may have you wondering how our state is responding. First, the facts: In 2014, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated that more than 2.5 million Americans struggled with addiction to prescription pain medication or heroin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited a four-fold increase in opioid-related overdose deaths since 1999, and in Georgia, the rate more-than-tripled between 2006 and 2015.

I want to assure you that Georgia is tackling the epidemic head-on, and DBHDD is on the front line. As the state opioid authority, DBHDD is responsible for the prevention, treatment, and recovery elements of Georgia’s statewide response. In 2017, we received SAMHSA’s two-year State Targeted Response (STR) to the Opioid Crisis grant ($11.8 million per year). At the end of the first year, we have made important enhancements in each area of responsibility.

DBHDD’s Office of Behavioral Health Prevention has focused on three initiatives:

  • Training in naloxone administration and distribution of naloxone kits for 312 first responders and 3,255 citizens, which resulted in 435 self-reported overdose reversals;
  • Two new public service announcements (PSA) about Georgia’s Good Samaritan law and naloxone availability, which have been played in more than 100 movie theatres statewide; and
  • Engaging four providers to implement SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) model in regions 2, 3, 5, and 6.

The Office of Addictive Diseases contracted with nine providers for treatment – including Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) – of uninsured and underinsured Georgians who have opioid use disorders. Through this initiative, 450 individuals have received treatment.

Three recovery initiatives have been added through the grant:

  • A peer warm line to support people who have an opioid use disorder by connecting them with individuals in recovery who have been through similar experiences;
  • Recovery coaching in two hospital emergency departments; and
  • Education for recovery residences to align with the various pathways to recovery.

In the second year of the grant, which began May 1, 2018, the Prevention Office will double naloxone distribution to first responders and will release two additional PSAs that promote self-advocacy and safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs. It will also continue to fund SPF providers. The Office of Addictive Diseases will continue funding programs for MAT services and add new providers in regions 1, 3, and 6 to address the treatment need. Recovery initiatives will continue with the addition of recovery coaches in two additional hospital emergency departments and funding of three recovery community organizations in regions 2, 4, and 6 to provide support to those seeking recovery.

The opioid epidemic is multi-faceted and requires extensive collaboration. DBHDD has many great partners in this venture. We are working closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health to develop Georgia’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan.

We also participated in the launch of a Statewide Opioid Taskforce, convened by Attorney General Carr in October 2017 to bring together key stakeholders. Following the initial meeting, the Attorney General’s Office, DBHDD, the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH), and DPH met to discuss strategies for addressing the growing opioid crisis. To date, over 200 people from more than 50 organizations have participated in a series of meetings to inform the strategic plan by identifying key goals, objectives, and outcomes in the following areas:

  • Prevention Education
  • Maternal Substance Use
  • Data and Surveillance
  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)
  • Treatment and Recovery
  • Control and Enforcement

This work will result in the publication of a statewide plan that ensures accountability and transparency in the work ahead. As an essential enhancement to our efforts to address the opioid epidemic, DBHDD received $4 million in new state funding to support statewide implementation of Addiction Recovery Support Centers. Led by peers, the centers offer non-clinical activities that engage, educate, and support individuals and families to make the life changes necessary for to experience recovery. There is growing evidence of the need for a continuum of care that offers support and assistance well beyond the bounds of treatment.

There is hardly a family in Georgia that is not touched by addiction. Even as we battle at the cutting edge of treatment and services in the opioid crisis, we know that the bottom line is that addiction is the fundamental issue to be addressed. Abuse of alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamines still represent significant challenges in our state. DBHDD – along with our providers and our state, federal, and community partners – is committed to education, prevention, early intervention, and evidence-based treatment. We engage in this work grounded in the belief that recovery is possible for each and every Georgian.

Commissioner’s Corner – June 2018

This is that wonderful time of year when many are honored for graduating.  For some, this is the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and achievement; and for others, a stop along the way on a continuum of formal education and training.  In either case, many do so with the realization that learning does not end with the earning of a diploma or degree.  It is a lifetime journey in which we accept responsibility for improvement of self and the world around us.

Peter Senge carried this message to organizations in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, stating, “The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be those that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels of the organization.”  At DBHDD, we believe in this philosophy and are truly committed to becoming a Learning Organization—one in which we continue to grow and develop through awareness of self and others, education, training, collaboration, and commitment to excellence in all we do.

DBHDD’s Office of Human Resources and Learning plays an integral part in supporting our evolution as a Learning Organization.  Aligned with DBHDD’s mission and vision, HR and Learning is at the forefront of ensuring that we have a skilled, engaged, and high-performing workforce to meet the needs of the people we serve.

Our Learning Team (formerly the Office of Learning and Organizational Development, or “OLOD”), comprises an important part of our integrated Office of HR and Learning.  Led by Mark Green, director of HR and Learning, and Theodore Carter, Jr., senior director of Learning, the team is responsible for the development, acquisition, and delivery of high-quality, evidence-based learning solutions to DBHDD staff, community providers, and the people we serve.

Learning is comprised of three major sections:

  • Hospital Training Administration, led by Donna Johnson, Ph.D.
  • Training Programs for Divisional, Office, and Community-Based Training, led by April Umstead, Ph.D.
  • Learning Systems and Content Development, led by Ann Rogers

The efforts of each of these groups is augmented through our partnership with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVIOG).  A prime example of the value of this collaboration is shown in DBHDD’s Management Academy, a certification program helping to equip selected team members with the skills and tools necessary to position the department as an “Employer of Choice” and achieve our mission and vision.  To date, some 200 emerging leaders have participated in the program, with many of the graduates advancing to fill critical roles and/or assume increased responsibilities within DBHDD.

Within our hospitals, training program administration teams coordinate with local leadership and subject matter experts to ensure that new staff are enthusiastically and effectively introduced to the organization.  This is accomplished through our redesigned/refreshed new staff orientation (NSO).  Implemented in 2017, NSO provides a meaningful and engaging onboarding experience for all staff, and prepares them for further training and learning on the job.  Mundane classroom-based lecture and reading was replaced by streamlined content, group discussion and activities, and a totally refreshed look and feel to the orientation experience.  Staff can sense the learning culture of DBHDD and are encouraged to carry their energy and passion into their work.

The work of Hospital Training Administration doesn’t end there!  The team supports delivery of approximately 175,000 hours of annual recertification training to hospital staff.  These trainings are critical to ensuring that staff acquire and sustain knowledge, skills, and competency necessary in performing their roles, and are a critical component in achieving/maintaining facility accreditation.

Training Programs for Divisional, Office, and Community Team members provide learning solutions which greatly enhance DBHDD and the provider network’s ability to meet the needs of the people we serve; and ensure their quality of care, health, and safety within the healthcare continuum.  This is done through comprehensive project development, management, and coordination, and the presentation and/or facilitation of a multitude of offerings.  Often behind the scenes, yet instrumental to the success of our largest events, the team coordinates with speakers, vendors, and venues to ensure that all aspects of program delivery are excellent, and desired outcomes achieved.  Did you know that our diverse training programs are attended by more than 6,000 participants annually?

Learning must assist in ensuring that staff and stakeholders are informed, connected, and accountable.  Achieving this requires content and delivery of learning solutions which meet the needs and style of the learner.  Learning Systems and Content Development create and adapt curricula, incorporating technology, and leveraging cutting-edge training modalities to bring learning to the places where we are and work.  The DBHDD University website provides direct 24-7 access to a library of more than 2,500 offerings and online certification courses and trainings to build a broad spectrum of skills and competencies.

We are proud that DBHDD’s Learning Team is viewed among the elite within the learning community of state government.  This team continues to seek ways to support and advance the skills, abilities, passion, and contributions of our staff, providers, and partners.  We believe that an engaged and informed workforce in Georgia is the best path to achieve our shared goal of improved outcomes for the people we serve.


Judy Fitzgerald