DBHDD at the Georgia Mutual Aid Task Force Meeting

DBHDD was center stage at the Georgia Mutual Aid Task Force meeting on June 16, 2017. The MATF is a quarterly meeting held at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, GA, and attendees representing healthcare organizations from all over the state meet to share ideas and best practices in emergency preparedness.

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are Babs Hall (Aspire BHS), Steve Herndon (DBHDD), Catherine Ivy (DBHDD), Sabrina Tuten (Unison BH) and Jeannette David (DBHDD)

DBHDD’s Catherine Ivy, Director of Community Services for the Division of Developmental Disabilities, gave a presentation highlighting the shift from an institutional-based model of health care delivery to a community-based system of care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ms. Ivy emphasized the importance for disaster planners to have an understanding of the needs of this populations so they can collaborate with service providers to meet those needs during times of disaster.

Steve Herndon, Project Director for the Georgia Recovery Project, works out of DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health in Division of Behavioral Health. Mr. Herndon gave a presentation on the Georgia Recovery Project, which is a FEMA funded crisis counseling program for the survivors of the January 2017 tornadoes in South Georgia. The GRP operates out of Aspire Behavioral Health Services serving Dougherty and Worth counties and Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia and serving Berrien, Cook and Turner counties. The GRP is a program that provides outreach to the tornado survivors and services include: individual and group counseling, psychoeducation, assessment, referral and linkage to resources.

There were representatives from two CSBs at the MATF meeting as well. Sabrina Tuten from Unison Behavioral Health was there with her local disaster planning partners from the Region M healthcare coalition in southeast Georgia. Region M’s leadership comes from Memorial Satilla Health and GA Department of Public Health District 9-2 in Waycross. Babs Hall, from Aspire Behavioral Health out of Albany, GA, also attended the meeting. Ms. Hall is the Team Leader for Aspire’s GRP and oversees all aspects of the crisis counseling program for Dougherty and Worth counties. In addition to supervising 13 staff members, Babs has done an excellent job networking with other agencies involved in the tornado recovery and she’s had much success marketing the program through local media outlets.

Behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities have always been underrepresented at MATF and other disaster planning meetings but it doesn’t have to be that way. Providers are encouraged to attend future meetings and get involved with their local healthcare coalition. The next meeting of the MATF is on Friday, September 15, 2017 at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, 1000 Indian Springs Road in Forsyth, GA from 9:00 AM to 2:30 PM and lunch is provided. Attending one of these meetings is a great way to meet your local disaster planning and response partners and learn about trends and best practices in the field of disaster preparedness and response. If you’d like more information about MATF and disaster planning contact DBHDD’s Disaster Mental Health Coordinator, Jeannette David, at Jeannette.david@dbhdd.ga.gov.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Contact:

Sis Wenger @ SWenger@nacoa.org

Marie Gallo Dyak @ mgdyak@eiconline.org

A career in recovery celebrated


Mark Baker, DBHDD’s director of recovery transformation, began with the department in 2010.  In five short years, he leaves a lasting imprint on the agency and many in the community who have benefited from his dedication to the people we serve. 

Tell us about your career before DBHDD.
I started my career in Boston as an opera singer after attending the New England Conservatory of Music.  Then I went to seminary at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1979.  From seminary, I went to work at an urban, city church called Grace Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  It was a poor, depressed mill town, and it was at the height of deinstitutionalization in Massachusetts (1980). 

That’s when I started really doing the kind of work that I wanted to do, which was working with people who are out on the street, people who were poor, people who were being deinstitutionalized and marginalized.  From there, I got involved with working with homeless people in Boston, and those with mental health challenges.

What brought you to Georgia?
In 1995, I came to Atlanta, where I worked at Church of the Holy Comforter in Ormewood Park.  The parishioners were primarily very poor, and many – about 70-80% – had mental health issues and lived in the group homes in the area.

It was right around the run-up to the Olympics in ‘96 that I met Larry Fricks.  He was trying to set up some oases for people who, during the Olympics, might get shifted around from downtown.  So he was going around and trying to set up these Friendship Centers, so we signed up to do that, and once they Olympics were over, we just kept doing the friendship center at Holy Comforter, and that turned into a huge recovery program.  We played music; we played Uno; we did art, and we just kind of started building community.  That evolved into recovery through the arts, the first program of its kind in Atlanta.  Then we also got a nurses’ program and a GED program going – all of this at no cost to the state; this is just what the church did.

How long were you at Holy Comforter?
Eight years.  In 2003, I went to New York, then I came back to Georgia two years later and worked in AmericanWork’s peer support program in Toccoa.  I came to DBHDD as director of advocacy in 2010.

What has been most important to you in your work with DBHDD?
When I came here, there were two things I wanted to do.  I wanted to push as hard as I could at advancing recovery and developing recovery as a way to approach behavioral health for people everywhere.  And I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for people with lived experience to tell their story to the system.  And we’ve been able to do both of those things.  That was it—that was all I wanted to do.

What does recovery mean to you?
What recovery means to me is that there’s only one person who can take responsibility for my wellbeing, and that’s me.  Recovery is that there is no greater authority on how to live my life, and how to live it in a healthy wholesome way, than me.  Recovery is also the realization, the awareness, and the experience that it happens not in isolation, but in relationship to other people. 

Recovery is also about realizing that wellness is not just about the absence of disease or illness – that there is something about mental health and health itself which has everything to do with hope, with strength, with goodness, with what’s working for me, as opposed to what hurts, what’s wrong, what’s broken, what needs to be fixed.

I always think that recovery comes down to three questions:

  • What’s working for you?
  • What gives you hope?
  • And what do you need to be successful?

And those are all positively stated affirmations, even though they’re questions.  That is where recovery starts.

What are your thoughts in closing as you look back on your career – what we’ve accomplished at the state, and where we are headed in the future?
This is an amazing group of people here.  These are people who really have vision; they have incredible hearts; they have incredible minds; and they have incredible skills.  I cannot say enough about my colleagues here at 2 Peachtree and in the field and the hospitals.

I hear more and more that the most important thing in recovery is the person – the end user is really of tantamount importance to everybody.  That to me is the amazing shift.  I have yet to be in a meeting that is not focused on the end user.  I hear that continuously expressed, “how’s this going to work out there?”  That, to me, is the accomplishment.

When I came to DBHDD as the director of advocacy, the point was to make sure that advocacy had a seat at the leadership table, and it did.  And I think that that will continue to be a challenge for whoever is in this position – how to maintain the balance between being a full-fledged member of DBHDD, which I am proud of being, and also having another foot out there on the street.  To maintain the awareness – the intentionality – of being an advocate, and how to continue to bring advocacy to the table here at DBHDD because that’s the path of wisdom – to be able to hear what advocacy is calling for and figure out how to make it work.

Last question: What do you plan to do with all your new free time?
I’m going to fish.  I’m going to work in my woodshop, hoe my garden, and play the banjo – I’m in a string band.