Commissioner’s Corner 03/06/2018

Greetings!  Over the next few months, I will be highlighting some of the exciting transformation efforts underway throughout DBHDD.  We are a department on the move!

The Division of Developmental Disabilities has been at the center of our efforts to transform.  We have multiple service improvements underway.  One element of our system has emerged as an area of great importance: the Planning List for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).  You may already know that many states have planning lists for people with I/DD.  This is a reflection of growing national prevalence, such that demand exceeds current resource allocations.  In Georgia, our list has existed for many years and holds the names of thousands of individuals.  People have been added to the list whether their need is current or urgent.  As a result, it has been difficult to assess the true need in Georgia.

In 2016, DBHDD began the process of reviewing our approach to the I/DD Planning list.  This effort was guided by several key principles: customer service, accountability, transparency, consistency, and operational efficiency.  We wanted to communicate with families about expectations of placement on the Planning List.  The bottom line is that we want to ensure that the I/DD Planning List is accurate and fair.  Individuals with the greatest level of need must be prioritized, regardless of their location in the state.

We made adjustments to outdated staffing patterns and have adopted new tools and technology.  This technology enables two important advancements: First, it allows more consistent and sophisticated analysis of the changing needs of individuals on the Planning List.  Second, more specific and detailed understanding of individual needs helps us to expand additional resources beyond just our COMP and NOW waivers.

We are working hard to make the most of current service systems.  It is essential to have support available as close as possible to where need exists.  As a result, DBHDD added a Planning List Navigator in each of the six service delivery regions in the state.  These Navigators help to address any questions or concerns regarding the Planning List Process.  The Navigators will also connect individuals and families with community-based resources.  To ensure accountability, we have also adopted new performance measures to assess our progress.  We are confident that these improvements will increase accountability and accessibility, while allowing us to remain flexible in a dynamic healthcare environment.

These changes positioned DBHDD to respond to a request from the General Assembly to submit a five-year plan to reduce Georgia’s I/DD Planning List.  This report is available on our website.  It outlines several strategies for consideration, and also recognizes the financial commitment necessary to make an impact.  We would welcome the opportunity to accelerate our pace, and we believe that our provider network can readily respond.

As we continue to implement important improvements, we are mindful of our responsibility to make positive and meaningful changes for the people we serve.  We believe that with appropriate supports and services for individuals and their families, people can live a healthy, thriving life in the community.

Commissioner’s Corner 02/06/2018

2018 is off and running.  Between budget and legislative activities, and our ongoing system-wide transformation, we continue to drive toward the end of the ADA Extension Agreement, scheduled for June 30, 2018.  As we focus on these significant strategic priorities, I wanted to take a pause and revisit our “WHY?”.  Why do we embrace our challenging mission to serve some of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens?

By now, you are familiar with DBHDD’s vision of easy access to high-quality care that leads to a life of recovery and independence for the people we serve.  We talk about our vision often, but it takes more than aspiration to keep us on track to make this vision a reality.  It takes a specific focus, commitment, and vigilance.  Values are just pleasant words if you cannot see them in action.  Our “why” is the belief that recovery is real, and independence is possible.

That is why I am so excited to announce DBHDD’s new policy on Recovery, Wellness, and Independence.  This policy touches our entire system: hospitals, providers in our network, and all DBHDD employees.  It codifies our commitment to these three tenets that drive our purpose.  It 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.  We believe that it is important for our employees and providers to be aligned with individuals and families in the goals, values, and principles of recovery and resilience that support independence and wellness.  More than just a conceptual framework, we strive to ensure that services are delivered in a way that honors these values and principles.

In the policy, you’ll find definitions of terms like recovery, independence, and wellness.  Though you may already use these words daily, I encourage you to read the definitions.  You might be surprised at what inspires you as you connect the words to your work and your “why.”

The policy is informed by a series of guiding principles and values that:

  • Convey the hope of recovery from behavioral health challenges. Recovery emerges from hope.  Therefore, convey messages of hope, encouragement, and the belief that recovery is possible.
  • Are informed by the wisdom of lived experiences. Knowledge gained from lived experience is distinct from that gained from education and clinical practice.  Each person’s experiences bring something valuable to the table, so it is critical to engage the unique voice individuals and families.
  • Address trauma.
  • Recognize that recovery occurs through many pathways. Service planning and delivery must be individualized and person-centered.
  • Empower communities by working as partners with the people we serve and those in their support network.
  • Are based on respect, focused on the strengths of the individual, culturally informed, and anchored in wellness.

Additional values and principles are contained within the policy.  As with the definitions mentioned above, I hope each of you will read these closely.  As for me, the most essential word is hope.  I started this year with a spirit of great optimism and hope, and the amazing work I see every day has sustained that energy!

This policy will be significant for our department, our provider partners, and most importantly, the individuals and families we serve, as it guides us toward meaningful work that is centered on making our vision a reality.  You can read the full text here.

I thank you for your tireless commitment and look forward to making continued improvements to our service delivery system that are grounded in recovery, independence, and wellness for the people we serve.



Commissioner Fitzgerald Signature





Judy Fitzgerald

Independence in its Deepest Meaning

Happy Summer to all! The transition to a new season on the calendar offers an opportunity to reflect upon the previous months and also peek forward into the weeks ahead.

Summer represents different things to each of us. For some it is the relief from school schedules, for others, the promise of a planned vacation, and still others, the joy of ballgames or concerns about sweltering heat. One element of summer that brings us all together is the celebration of July Fourth. There is something about the waving of the Red, White and Blue of our nation’s flag that brings us together and compels us to think about the gifts of freedom and independence. Hot dogs in hand, with family and friends we honor both the idea of independence, and also the reality of the liberties that we enjoy. It is a great way to unify in celebration.

Of course, independence has additional meaning for DBHDD team members, and our partner providers and advocates. We strive to promote independence and integration into the community for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) each and every day. Creating opportunities that allow for individual advancement is our mission, and I thank all of you for your collective commitment to demonstrating that Georgia can be a leader in this movement toward recovery and independence. Like every civil rights movement before it, the drive for people with disabilities to achieve more has been bolstered by very capable individuals that inspire and challenge us to push forward. Sometimes that requires assistance from DBHDD, and other times, that requires us to step out of the way. We are working hard to do both, so that our administrative necessities do not stand in the way of independence, but instead, facilitate it.

In June, I had the privilege to share in a celebration of Georgia’s leadership for people with disabilities. Governor and Mrs. Deal hosted a press conference at the Capitol to celebrate the launch of Georgia’s STABLE program. STABLE is the fulfillment of federal legislation designed to enhance the ability for people with disabilities to save and invest without losing benefits. It is tax-free savings plan that allows for qualified disability-related expenditures through the use of a STABLE card. You can learn more about this progressive program through the link on the DBHDD website or directly at The press conference featured DCH Commissioner Frank Berry, Chair of the Georgia’s ABLE Board, Rep. Lee Hawkins, sponsor of Georgia’s ABLE legislation, and Tena Blakely, representing advocates and providers in Georgia. Governor Deal’s personal pride and commitment to people with disabilities was on full display. The wind beneath the wings of this effort is most certainly individuals that motivate us through individual courage and achievement. It is a proud step forward toward individual independence for people with disabilities.

This reflection upon freedom offers an additional opportunity for gratitude. This expression of thanks is to our veterans that bravely answered the call to serve our country and many of whom answered a similar call to serve Georgia’s most vulnerable individuals. DBHDD and our provider network employ numerous veterans, and we want to thank each of you for your commitment to serve. We honor your courage, dedication, and the selfless work you do each day. At our state office at 2 Peachtree, we are inspired every day by Dr. Emile Risby, DBHDD’s Medical Director. Dr. Risby is a Colonel in the United States Army Reserve and embraces this duty with the same enthusiasm that he leads our hospitals. This is further evidence that the goals and values we strive to achieve are often embodied by those right in front of us.

Happy Independence Day to us all!

Judy Fitzgerald, Commissioner
Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities