Toward the close of last month, an independent reviewer issued an end-of-year-two report mandated by Georgia’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Proving once again how little true attention this entire aspect of society receives despite it costing almost a billion dollars in state taxes per year (more than a billion if federal funding grants are included), no mainstream news article on the findings could be found, although at least two publications specializing in health-care issues reported on it. To read the extensive finding via our web site, go to http://www.rn-t.com/bookmark/20598292.
The state actually got fairly good grades for compliance in setting up or even exceeding the new mechanics/procedures outlined in the deal and for putting more millions into this effort to go to primarily “community-based” services, most provided by private contractors, for the developmentally disabled. It also complied with more general mental illness assistance creation although quite a few of those new locally based, staffed units have, of course, already been tossed out as failures, started over from scratch, or new vendors sought. That was reported not long ago, although also not widely publicized.
This annual review did not say much about what is actually the larger component in numbers, far more numerous than the developmentally disabled. It is an aspect most worrisome in Floyd County where local taxpayers were pretty much left holding the bag when the hospital closed and its 750 public servants terminated. That involves those able-bodied but with mental illness or alcohol/drug-abuse problems such as are, most Greater Romans increasingly have become aware, filling up the Floyd County Jail and similar sheriff operations around the state.
HOWEVER, when it came to the human element regarding the developmentally disabled, now relocated mostly to smaller group homes in residential settings, the report turned critical. It reported that a survey done of how some 48 such individuals are faring, without providing details, found rights violations, unsanitary environments, inadequate staffing, unsatisfactory day programs and psychotropic drug use without informed consent.
This is 48 looked at out of the more than 300 former such state hospital clients removed to such settings, more than 100 of them from NWGRH. Perhaps similar “survey” interest should be shown in the other 250. It is also probably safe to assume that the 2,248 such individuals that the report listed as now receiving “family support” from the state are not being surveyed at all.
Another number of interest to recently emerge came from Sheriff Tim Burkhalter who bluntly and correctly stated of his current jail operation that “We became Northwest Georgia Regional.” Of the 750 inmates in his charge, he said, about 17 percent are on psychotropic medication that local taxpayers must provide and the sheriff’s department must administer, with some 26 “very mentally ill.”
Doing a little simple math, that works out to roughly 127 inmates in the County Jail identified as mental patients with at least 26 tagged as being in a condition that is usually also described as meaning an apparent danger to themselves or others. AT NWGRH, when it was there, that meant that one staff member had to be watching one such patient 24/7.
AT THIS point, it is amazing to note that NWGRH before closing had 295 beds of which a bit less than 100 went to this sort of population although there were also two units surrounded by barbed wire holding state prisoners with high levels of mental problems. Those in units without barbed wire were usually sent to the hospital by the courts, or entered voluntarily, for evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and stabilization before being released.
How can the Floyd Jail now hold more of such than NWGRH held? And what is the grand total with about every other jail in the 31 North Georgia counties formerly served by NWGRH having sheriffs reporting similar problems? Because the jail’s population, whether awaiting justice-system action or serving sentences for misdemeanors related to their behavior, can’t and won’t get out in 30 days or so … nor are they being treated and stabilized other than by pharmaceuticals. NWGRH beds had constant turnover; those at the jail have comparatively long-term occupants and the inmates thus pile up.
And those now in such jail care, it should be noted, offer beds additional to the 35 hospital-type beds and more than 500 housing-type beds without bars whose creation the state has complied with in the court-mandated review.
CALL IT “overflow” or just a real mess, but the entire cost is falling on local taxpayers. In Floyd County that means to the extent of every day housing, feeding, medically caring and protecting from harm at least 127 people who have a health condition that used to be dealt with as a medical concern, not one for sheriffs who, by the way, used to send such individuals as they encountered or arrested them to NWGRH for evaluation/diagnosis. Now, without the ability or staff to evaluate and diagnose, they get to keep them behind bars until the slow-moving wheels of justice can figure out what to do with them. Wheels of justice that, by the way, also sent such offenders/patients to similar facilities to be held there until stabilized or cured.
And, a final set of numbers from about two years ago when the closing of NWGRH was first announced by Dr. Frank Shelp, the now-departed commissioner. He said closing the hospital campus would net a $5 million savings by eliminating a $17 million expense and instead funneling $12 million into contracts for replacement services.
Would it be fair to suggest that the state should now funnel that $5 million in annual savings to the Floyd County sheriff, and the 30 others in North Georgia counties formerly served by NWGRH and having similar problems, so that they can hire adequate security staff, and psychiatric personnel to deal with what they have been handed? And, of course, remove this new tax burden from local residents.
IN THIS crazy world of how mental illness is currently being handled, that sounds almost sane, doesn’t it?