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 @

Marie Gallo Dyak @

Cohort 2 of DBHDD’s Management Academy a Resounding Success

On July 17, DBHDD graduated the second cohort of the Management Academy, a six-month program designed to train and support emerging leaders within the department. The program was co-developed by DBHDD’s Office of Learning and Organizational Development and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

In addition to the program curriculum, which covers topics such as “leading in the public sector” and “enhancing organizational effectiveness,” participants work in groups throughout the program to study and make recommendations on specific, DBHDD-focused issues and projects.

Before the lunchtime graduation ceremony, Cohort 2’s five interdisciplinary teams presented their findings to their classmates and DBHDD leadership.

Presentation Summaries:

Group 1: New Employee Orientation and Onboarding
Goal: To help DBHDD’s Office of Learning and Organizational Development by studying the department’s various new employee orientation programs and making recommendations on how to create standardized orientation program for all staff.

Team members: Julia Arthur, Katherine McKenzie, Ramona Pullin, Dr. Jamie Short, Candace Walker

Group 2: Bridging the Gap: IDD Waiver Funding Approval
Goal: To help improve the process of awarding waivers to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They interviewed DBHDD staff and families of individuals receiving waiver services. Recommendations included establishing a uniform communication process to ensure consistency and quality across our system.

Team members: Kenneth Ward, Allen Morgan, JaVonna Daniels

Group 3: Addressing the needs of dually diagnosed individuals
Goal: To help staff who care for dually diagnosed individuals access information that will help them provide better care by creating the website: Filling the GAP: Georgia Access Point. The site is intended to help staff improve care, mitigate challenges for people with a dual diagnosis, and identify cost savings that allow DBHDD to provide care to more individuals.

Team members: Brittaney Mills, CeCelia Dixie, Tiffany Snow, Linda Dykes, Holly Crowley, Yvonna Sherrell

Group 4: Communicating and Socializing DBHDD’s Vision and Mission Statements
Goal: To help the department promote our vision and mission statements to DBHDD staff, providers, advocates, consumers and the general public.

Team members: Marcy Burns, Andrea Harrelson, Fatma Jones, Michael Link, Jill Mays

Group 5: Promotion of the Crisis Continuum
Goal: To improve marketing of education to individuals and families about crisis services.

Team members: Paula Walden, J.R. Gravitt, Kimberly Miller, Lori Hanes

Assertive Community Treatment Improves Outcomes for Individuals with SPMI

A recent DBHDD study found that individuals who participate in assertive community treatment (ACT) experience a significant decrease in both hospital readmission and length of inpatient stay as a result of ACT participation. ACT is a community-based alternative to hospitalization for people who have a severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) which has interrupted their ability to live in the community successfully. It is often referred to as a “hospital without walls” because it provides a full range of treatment and supports that enable individuals with SPMI to live in the community.

Data collected by the department over a 6-month period showed a 56 percent decrease in the number of days of hospital admission and a 69 percent decrease in the number of individuals receiving inpatient services. The sample included 264 individuals enrolled in ACT services.

The study was conducted to determine the short-term effectiveness of the ACT teams in reducing psychiatric hospitalization. Researchers compared the frequency of hospitalizations prior to and during enrollment, and after discharge. Future research will investigate longer-term outcomes of ACT services, as well as other services in the DBHDD continuum of care.

The 22 ACT teams included in this study serve more than 1,400 people in Georgia by providing a full range of treatment and supports to enable individuals with SPMI to live in the community. Services include counseling, medication, case management and peer support. The goal of ACT is to reduce hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness, and to promote community integration. Georgia’s 22 state-funded ACT teams receive oversight, guidance, technical assistance and fidelity monitoring from DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health.

Building at Central State Hospital gets a fresh coat of paint

One of the oldest buildings on Milledgeville’s Central State Hospital campus received a fresh upgrade with a large-scale art mural.

“I wanted something painted on the wall that would reflect what is happening today at Central State Hospital,” said Darrell Davis, director of STEMversity. “There are a lot of great opportunities happening there for a lot of people.”

Matt Jackson, a junior at Savannah School of Arts & Design, painted a phoenix rising from ashes last month on the exterior wall of the Wilkes building. “I couldn’t believe that he wanted me to actually paint a mural on the outside of the building,” said Jackson. “Mr. Davis said what better way to use my concept since Central State is trying to rise up again.”

Artwork by Matt Jackson, junior at the Savannah School of Arts & Design
Artwork by Matt Jackson, junior at the Savannah School of Arts & Design

Davis is the founder of Committee for Action Programs Services – Analytical Training Laboratory (CAPS-ATL), the non-profit organization which runs STEMversity. STEM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math”. STEMversity, which introduces middle and high school students from the Milledgeville area to the study of forensic science, will start its second Summer Science Training Academy this year on the CSH campus.

“It’s another way to bring art to STEM, too,” Jackson said. “Actually, I think they need to add the letter A to the word STEM to represent art.”

Watch a video of Matt Jackson painting the mural.


Recovery-Focused Technical Assistance pilots with four DBHDD providers

DBHDD provides community-based, recovery-oriented care to help people live meaningful and fulfilling lives. The department is partnering with the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN), the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA), and the Georgia Parent Support Network (GPSN) to offer Recovery-Focused Technical Assistance. This program supports community provider staff by sharing practices that promote a recovery-focused approach to all services. The organizations involved with this work are part of the Georgia Recovery Initiative, which seeks to promote recovery in Georgia.

“DBHDD, through the Office of Recovery Transformation, is building community recovery partnerships with community providers, stakeholders, and families,” said Office of Recovery Transformation Director Mark Baker, whose team is leading DBHDD’s efforts with the program.

CSB of Middle Georgia staff with program facilitators. Photo credit: Dina McDonald
CSB of Middle Georgia staff with program facilitators. Photo credit: Dina McDonald

Funded by DBHDD, the program has piloted with the CSB of Middle Georgia (Dublin), Advantage Behavioral Health (Athens), Cobb-Douglas CSB (Marietta) and Community Friendship (Atlanta). A team of facilitators, made up of consultants Dr. Dietra Hawkins and Dr. David Stayner, along with Brent Hoskinson and James Guffey of GMHCN, and Owen Dougherty and Tony Sanchez of GCSA, conducted the workshops and are continuing with follow-up technical assistance at each organization.

The program’s goal is to help provider staff make recovery sustainable for the people they serve. “This means supporting people as they move toward the life that they want to live, a joyful and happy life, that is based on their goals, dreams, and aspirations,” said Brent Hoskinson, one the program facilitators. “We are seeing amazing projects coming out of this process that organizations can put into practice almost immediately.”

The Recovery-Focused Technical Assistance program encourages collaboration between DBHDD’s providers on effective strategies for sustaining recovery. “What better process could there be than one that offers to our providers the opportunity to build on what they already know, what works best in their local community, and gives them an opportunity to learn from the successes of others?,” Hoskinson said.

“I was truly amazed at the energy, excitement, and participation during the two-day learning event,” said facilitator James Guffey. “By working in collaboration, as an inclusive team, this really mirrored what recovery is all about.”

Staff at CSB of Middle Georgia, the initial pilot site, gave the program rave reviews. Read what they had to say below:

“I learned so much and am looking forward to working with this group of people.”
Shannon Corso

“My experience with [the workshop] was amazing. I learned so much about myself and my fellow co-workers. I developed a strong bond with many co-workers that I had never met before or knew very little of. It strengthened my commitment to my job as well as the individuals that I serve.”
Ashley Lewis

“I am grateful and blessed that I work at CSB of Middle Georgia and about how open and enthused we all are in the positive changes to come.”
Lisa Clark

“I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop. We were visited by many wonderful people, including Dr. Dietra Hawkins and Dr. David Stayner who helped us reignite the fire in the employees here in Central Georgia. Sometimes we start to lose sight, or forget, about what really matters: improving people’s lives. The [workshop] helped us put this back into perspective and helped us realize that change was not as difficult, nor as scary, as it seemed. Now, we have begun some small success projects and we’re also discussing the future — bigger successes. I know we truly have become an even more recovery oriented center with your assistance, support and encouragement.”
Elizabeth Button

“I really got a lot out of the training. It helped me to see that the people we help do have a voice. For me as a recovering person that is very encouraging. It also encouraged me to share my story. I really want to help others find that hope that they too can get well and recover from addiction, mental illness, or whatever the problem is. You can recover!!! How bad do you want to recover?”
Cynthia Thigpen

“When our team started out…, I believed that we would all learn new things. I absolutely had no idea that the two days spent with our Change Team and Change Team 2 members would have been as inspiring and humbling as they were. Dr. Dietra Hawkins, Dr. David Stayner, along with Owen Dougherty, Brent Hoskinson, Tony Sanchez, and James Duffey, were without blemish in their methods of keeping us on task and our eyes and hearts focused toward recovery. It was an emotionally-laden two days, but a wonderful opportunity to build our team relationships, both individually and collectively. It was the absolute best kick-off training to being a more recovery-focused agency that I have participated in during my tenure with the CSB of Middle Georgia. Our clinical, support, and administrative staff, as well as our staff with lived experience are excited to be participating with DBHDD as a pilot with regard to [the] training, and we look forward to seeing the fruits of our labors in the projects that we are undertaking at our agency,  as well as the ripple effect that will occur in our community following our symposium, which is planned for April 10, 2015. The excitement, energy, and inspiration from those days in late February continue to resonate at our agency. We are looking for exceptionally good things to happen here throughout the weeks and months to come.”
Denise Forbes, CEO

CSB spotlight: Aspire works with local law enforcement

Jenny McIver, Georgia Department of Corrections; Telly Hartman, Albany probation office; and Nick Perry, Georgia Department of Corrections probation office

Albany-based Aspire Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Services, a community service board that serves eight southwest Georgia counties, is partnering with local law enforcement and stakeholders to address behavioral health crisis response in the community. The Albany Law Enforcement and Emergency Services Training is a collaborative effort between Aspire, the Albany Police Department, Albany State University (ASU) and the Georgia Department of Corrections’ Albany probation office.

Roger Haggerty, safety & security officer; Sandra Myers, chief personnel officer; Deneen Burnett, performance improvement coordinator and compliance officer; Elizabeth McQueen, LPC, chief clinical officer; and Dennis Addison, Jr., IT manager - Aspire BHDD
Roger Haggerty, safety & security officer; Sandra Myers, chief personnel officer; Deneen Burnett, performance improvement coordinator and compliance officer; Elizabeth McQueen, LPC, chief clinical officer; and Dennis Addison, Jr., IT manager – Aspire BHDD

Fifty-six members of the law enforcement community, including emergency services personnel, probation officers, nurse managers, counselors, police officers, sheriff’s deputies and others from Dougherty, Decatur, Mitchell, Worth and surrounding counties, participated in the first training. Representatives from the ASU Police Department, ASU Counseling and Student Disability Services, Dougherty County Emergency Medical Services, Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office, Albany Police Department, Sylvester Police Department, Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Department of Corrections’ probation offices in Albany, Camilla and Tifton, and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles’ Albany office attended.

ASU Chief John Fields; Nick Perry, Georgia Department of Corrections probation office; Telly Hartman, Albany probation office; Sandra Myers, chief personnel officer (Aspire); Captain Michael Persley, Albany Police Department; and Chief Kimberly Persley, Albany probation office

The training session included an overview of Aspire’s mission and services, behavioral health updates, and early intervention and crisis protocols. Deneen Burnett, Aspire’s performance improvement coordinator and compliance officer, and Elizabeth McQueen, LPC, Aspire’s chief clinical officer, led the session. Captain Michael Persley with Albany Police Department, Chief Kimberly Persley, with Albany probation office, ASU Chief John Fields, were instrumental in the planning for and collaboration on this successful event. Aspire anticipates future training sessions and collaborative efforts to support behavioral health crisis intervention. For more information, contact Aspire’s chief personnel officer, Sandra Meyers, at 229.430.4433.

Profiles in Success: Ronnie

River Edge Behavioral Health Center

When Bonnie moved from Wisconsin to Georgia in the early 1990s, she hoped her mom and brother, Ronnie, would follow. After a visit to the South over the winter, they did. Ronnie, who has a developmental disability, lived with their mom until she passed in 1996.

Photo credit: River Edge
Photo credit: River Edge

Bonnie accepted the responsibility as his primary caregiver with love and compassion, but she also knew Ronnie could, and should, have the opportunity to be more independent. Ronnie participated in community access day services, but as a full-time teacher, being able to meet Ronnie’s needs often required creative scheduling on Bonnie’s part. The residential coordinator of River Edge suggested that Ronnie could live more independently. River Edge helped Bonnie navigate the application and qualifying process to find a home for Ronnie. He now lives with three other adults in a neighborhood with independence supports provided by River Edge.

Bonnie says that Ronnie living in his own home has allowed him to broaden his horizons while allowing her to take care of herself. “Family members shouldn’t be afraid to let go,” said Bonnie. “Too often, we hang on trying to provide all the care needed – more out of guilt than anything.” Bonnie is grateful for the specialized services that help Ronnie achieve independence, but most importantly, she still has a wonderful relationship with her brother. “I have been an active sister and freely express my feelings about Ronnie’s needs and the care he receives,” she said. “River Edge listens and responds.”

Unison brings recovery technology to Southeast Georgia

Jeffrey (left) showing his case manager Donald Holland how he’s set up myStrength to send him encouragement and supportive alerts at times of the day he’s most likely to experience depression. Photo credit: Unison.
Jeffrey (left) showing his case manager Donald Holland how he’s set up myStrength to send him encouragement and supportive alerts at times of the day he’s most likely to experience depression. Photo credit: Unison.

Unison Behavioral Health in Waycross is innovating how it treats individuals with behavioral health challenges. A new partnership with myStrength, Inc. allows Unison’s clients to access treatment and supports by the click of a button. MyStrength is a mobile- and web-based application that offers a range of resources to improve mental health and overall well-being. Using their smart phones, tablets or personal computers, clients are now taking advantage of eLearning programs and personalized resources to support mental health and addictive disease recovery.

Implemented in July, myStrength is already making a big impact on the people served by Unison’s recovery programs, according to Director of Outpatient Services Tiffany Henderson. “MyStrength makes it easy for clients to get started right away. In our first month, we had 69 clients begin using the application,” she said.

Clients receive a user name, and they are able to set up their private, personalized website to access through their phone or computer. MyStrength offers a range of evidence-based interactive tools and daily inspirations tailored to their specific recovery needs. “Many of our clients use mood tracker to identify what triggers and times of day they’re most likely to have symptoms and then set up custom tools and alerts to better manage those times,” Henderson said. “We also love the fact that myStrength is completely self-directed so it’s up to each person how they wish to use it or whether they want to share their work with others.”

Jeffrey (left) succeeding in his personal recovery with myStrength
Jeffrey (left) succeeding in his personal recovery with myStrength
Angel (left) with Child and Family Therapist Rachel Arnold
Angel (left) with Child and Family Therapist Rachel Arnold

At the age of 55, Jeffrey found himself facing debilitating depression. In March 2014, he became homeless. He struggled to find hope and the means to get through the day. In July, Jeffrey’s intensive case manager introduced him to myStrength. Jeffrey is energized by what the new resource can do. Through his smart phone, he uses the mood tracker and motivational video tools to manage his depression. “MyStrength has given me the strength to carry on and push through each day between my sessions,” said Jeffrey.

Clients throughout Unison’s mental health and addictive disease programs are discovering new ways to use the mobile application. Twelve-year-old Angel, who is in Unison’s child and family program, struggled with self-esteem due to challenging events in her life. MyStrength has offered her new ways to cope with bullying and other difficult circumstances.

For many people, recovery means having a day-to-day awareness of personal wellness. Although recovery programs are very effective, the amount of time clients spend out-of-session working towards recovery is much greater than the time they spend in program sessions. MyStrength bridges the gap by providing Unison’s clients with easy-to-use tools they can access at any time during their daily lives. Because myStrength has become such a great resource for clients, Unison has also made it available to staff and board members.

The implementation of myStrength supports Unison’s vision of creatinghealthy, vibrant, caring communities where all persons have the opportunity to live productive, meaningful lives.Unison is one of DBHDD’s 26 community service boards and a leading provider of behavioral health and developmental disability services in southeast Georgia. For more information on about myStrength, contact Tiffany Henderson at or visit Unison online.