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.

bh 1
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.

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 Georgiastable.com. 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

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

Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

In December, 2016, Tony Sanchez, Director of Recovery Transformation Services at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities participated in a RESPECT Institute of Georgia training that was hosted at the Sparrow’s Nest in Athens. Below, Tony shares his thoughts about his experience.

For several years, I have heard from many Peers that the RI training was a trans-formative experience. In December, 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in a RI and I can affirm that it is trans-formative – and healing.

I confess that I felt vulnerable when I started sharing my story with the other participants. I wasn’t planning on it, but I found myself sharing
experiences and feelings that I had never shared with anyone before. I actually think everyone felt vulnerable, but there was so much encouragement and compassion, that everyone took a chance. Everyone took a chance to be open and authentic and though it felt raw emotionally, it was also very liberating and healing.

Having been a veteran of the 12-step program, I assumed that the RI training would come easy to me. But I realized that the expectations of the RI require a different approach. For example, the exercise of having to write out my story and condense 40 years of my life into a 10-minute presentation demanded that I prioritize my lived experiences and at the same time deliver an educational and poignant message. This was not an easy task, but as I continued to edit my presentation, I realized how far I had come in my recovery. I realized that my resilience and recovery eclipse all of the pains and struggles of my life.

What I will treasure the most from my RI experience is the feedback sessions. After a participant shares their story, everyone is so encouraging and empathetic and compassionate that these sessions felt sacred. And when you consider that these stories have been held inside for so long due to shame and stigma, these sessions truly are sacred.

In my position at [DBHDD], I have had many opportunities to hear RI Graduates begin an important meeting by sharing their stories. Now that I have participated in a RI, I want to impress upon everyone that behind every 10-minute inspirational presentation, there is an enormous amount of effort. The RI is designed with great precision, but to get the optimal benefits, a participant goes through three days of intense, emotional and sometimes exhausting processes as they make peace with their past and learn to tell their story. And telling their stories is precisely what the RESPECT Institute Graduates do – every day. To date, RESPECT Institute Graduates have presented their recovery stories to over 100,000 Georgia stakeholders.

From The RESPECT Institute of Georgia Team
We encourage all Graduates to go into their community and tell their story!
Jen Banathy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Organizational Development Coordinator
Denise Hardy
RESPECT Institute of Georgia Training Coordinator
Shelia Corn
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator
Lindsey Sizemore
RESPECT Institute of Georgia
Outreach Coordinator

Tony Sanchez’s RESPECT Institute Experience

Veterans’ Day Event at West Central Regional Hospital

vetdaywcgrh2016West Central Georgia Regional Hospital, along with three veterans service organizations, hosted a special recognition lunch event for staff, client, and special guest veterans in observance of Veterans Day last month.

The local veterans service organizations included the American Veterans (AMVETS) Post 9, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 12110, and the Marine Corps League Detachment 1402. The mission of these organizations is to assist veterans and their families.

The event was coordinated by WCGRH staff member Brent Eaton, who is also a veteran and member of the veterans service organizations which supported the event. Volunteers who also helped put on the event included hospital staff members of the employee appreciation function team. Guests included Edward L. Richards post commander of AMVETS, Donald Anthony Commander of VFW Post 12110, Mackey Carter Chaplain of VFW Post 12110, Charles Youmans member of AMVETS and VFW.

Regional Hospital Administrator John Robertson welcomed the guests, and Eugene Brown provided the invocation. Brent Eaton awarded 50 staff and client veterans with a certificate of appreciation for their years of service in the United States Military. Veteran and active duty service members represented included the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National and State Guard, and Army Reserve.

30 years of faithful service

Wanda Jallow 30 yearsEven with more than 30 years of state service, Wanda Jallow, who works in DBHDD’s Division of Performance Management and Quality Improvement, stills feels humble enough to know that there is always more to learn.

“My favorite aspect of my job is working with my co-workers,” Wanda said. “Most of them were little kids when I started my career with the state.  I enjoy sharing my knowledge with them and giving them encouragement to hang in there when things are rough.  I also know they have knowledge to share with me.  You can teach an old dogs new tricks!”

Wanda received her award and pin commemorating 30 years of faithful service in a ceremony earlier this month.  She started her career with the state in 1984 at Georgia Regional Hospital – Atlanta, and continued on to the DeKalb County Board of Health and the Department of Community Health before joining DBHDD last year.  She was working as an infectious disease nurse at the DeKalb County Board of Health following the 9/11 attacks.

“I began working with the Office of Emergency Preparedness where I was working directly with the CDC,” Wanda said.  “During this time, I assisted with the investigations of Anthrax threats.  I also had the privilege of being on the front line when several new diseases or reoccurring diseases were discovered such as West Nile virus, Avian Influenza, SARS, and so many more that were threats in the U.S. and throughout the world.”

Congratulations on 30 plus years of faithful service, Wanda!

Faith community asked to help combat the stigma of addiction

12512449_1114324658610909_734155431369925453_nMore than 100 leaders in the faith community, social workers, government officials, and families of individuals with substance use disorders gathered in Gwinnett last week to discuss the rising heroin crisis. Navigate Recovery Gwinnett, a nonprofit organization connecting individuals to addiction treatment services, hosted the event at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth.

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances in the world. The rise in its use correlates with an increase of pain reliever prescriptions. In 2013, 681,000 Americans used heroin, more than double from the previous decade. In Georgia, 1,206 deaths in 2014 were caused by heroin overdoses, an increase of 10.2 percent from 2013.

“DBHDD is trying to avert the problem that’s increasing from heroin and opioid use with access to services, a smoother transition into the community with recovery support services, and growing partnerships with our stakeholders,” said Wrayanne Glaze Parker, women’s program Coordinator in DBHDD’s Office of Addictive Diseases.

At the event last week, many of those on the front lines, including Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathy Schrader who oversees the local drug court, implored faith leaders to help combat the stigma of addiction.

Keeping history alive in Augusta

Brian-MulherinHave you ever wondered why the Central Kitchen/Dining Room building on the East Central Regional Hospital (ECRH) in Augusta is located at the end of the campus instead of in the center where it would be more convenient for individuals and staff?

Brian Mulherin knows. He’s a retired human services director at ECRH who is now a volunteer in the public relations office, and he shares this knowledge, along with other bits of trivia and history, in a bi-monthly newsletter published at ECRH.

“The original plans called for a 1,000-bed hospital, but a 350-bed hospital was all that was built,” Mulherin wrote in an early 2015 issue of the hospital publication for staff. “The same thing happened with the building of new regional hospitals in Atlanta, Columbus, and Savannah.  If the hospitals were built for 1,000 beds, the Central Kitchen/Dining Room building would be in the center of the campus.

“The time period for construction of the hospitals was 1966-1971. At the same time, new drugs and therapies were making it possible to keep individuals out of the hospital while receiving outpatient care.”

Mulherin gathers his stories from personal experience, the experience of other long-serving staff, retirees, hospital annual reports, and searching through documents found in the Gracewood Archives Building.

His experience with state service began in 1968 as a personnel officer. He retired in 1999 as the Director of Human Resources. In between, he was a public information officer and wore many different hats for the various hospital activities.

Mulherin’s lifetime dedication to those who live with mental health illnesses was recognized earlier this year as a recipient, along with his wife Neita, of the Jimmie Dyess Symposium’s Distinguished American Award. The couple have spent much of their lives advocating for mental health and volunteering for various organizations around Augusta.

Historial tidbits shared by Brian Mulherin:

About 25 years ago, something wonderful happened on the Georgia Regional Hospital campus, John Feight, Director of the Foundation for Hospital Art, spent several days putting designs of flora and fauna on the walls of the Central Dining Room. Patients then completed the designs, painting them with bright and comfortable colors. Mr. Feight, his staff, and the hospital’s Activity staff guided the patients in the use of colors and artistic methods. The patients loved this project, feeling pride and a sense of ownership in the paintings. Paintings in other buildings followed. Mr. Feight brought with him two volunteer artists, all the paint and equipment needed to do the job, and the cost to the hospital was nothing! What a gift!

In the 1950s, mental health services were rendered by the Department of Welfare. In the 1960s, mental health services were rendered by the Department of Public Health. In the 1970s, and up to 2009, mental health services were rendered by the Department of Human Resources. Today, Commissioner Frank Berry heads the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Furniture to be upgraded at state hospitals

At the five DBHDD regional hospitals, most of the furniture is more than 20 years old and in various states. DBHDD’s Office of Facilities Management plans to refresh the furniture in all consumer living units, including bedrooms, day rooms, and reception lobbies.

The upgrade project began last month with a hospital furniture expo hosted by Office Interiors in downtown Atlanta. Nearly 50 DBHDD subject matter experts, including doctors, nurses, administrators, and maintenance workers, reviewed furniture from the leading four manufacturers in the health field. They spoke with potential vendors and provided feedback using a scorecard which will be used to begin the selection and specification of the new products.

“Our main goal is to assure that the new assets provide a quality level of functionality, comfort and safety for our consumers,” said Richard Aghajanian, DBHDD’s maintenance director.

The project timeline is currently in the build phase with a goal of completion by next summer.


Representing DBHDD in the community

MLinkDBHDD’s Statewide Community Relations Office was established earlier this year to represent the department in the community. Director Michael Link travels across the state to inform organizations of department news and gather feedback on how DBHDD is fulfilling its vision of easy access to high-quality care for the people we serve.

We interviewed Mike to learn more about the Statewide Community Relations Office.

Why was there a need for this new office?
This is the first time we have had someone consistently in the community representing the department and all the disability groups. Commissioner Berry is the primary spokesperson, and he speaks on policy issues and has a relationship with stakeholders around the state to help formulate policy. Once that’s been developed, I go out and explain to people what that policy is and how it works.

So there’s an educational component to your role?
A lot what I’m doing is educational. I tell the story of the department, especially now with the reorganization. [In my presentations], I lead off with our vision and mission statements, how important that is, and how that sets the tone for the work that we do.

Can you describe your responsibilities?
I see my role as a vehicle to tell our story to the greater community and to raise the profile of the department, both as a storyteller and a brand manager. I promote the department as a key resource to community leaders, develop strong working relationship with community groups, and help coordinate communications with external groups.

What types of groups are you visiting?
I meet with community groups wherever they may be; often times to listen, and sometimes to present. I speak to all kinds of groups: community stakeholder groups that have been coordinated by NAMI, Kiwanis groups, community groups that have come together to deal with mobile crisis issues, provider meetings, local advisory council meetings, and other coalitions around the state. I attend standing meetings of the Georgia Behavioral Health Planning Advisory Council, Behavioral Health Services Coalition, and the Georgia Recovery Initiative. I also attend conferences.

How do you coordinate communications between providers and other stakeholders?
I want people to see me as a resource. Many providers are doing great, innovative work and we don’t often know about it. We want to highlight and showcase innovation. If other providers can see this work, we can connect with them and learn from them. I want providers to invite me out, to visit their programs, to see innovations that are producing good outcomes and to be able to share that with other folks.

Tell us about the community forums planned for next year.
The community education stakeholder forums will be held next year across the state. We will be educating the communities about the department and our services and programs. I think there’s a need to make sure we involve the communities in understanding and educating them about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and to gauge the issue of access and quality of services.

If you would like Mike to attend or present at your next community meeting, please email him at Michael.Link@dbhdd.ga.gov or call him at 404-353-6342.