The Georgia Mental Health Commission is planning the next round of reforms

ATLANTA – Georgia is beginning “the decade of mental health reform,” said Kevin Tanner, chairman of the state’s Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission this week.

The high-level commission, formed in 2019, has developed long-term recommendations for addressing the state’s poor mental health outcomes. The General Assembly adopted some of these recommendations during the legislative session of 2022.

The commission met on Thursday to review the progress of the reforms and plan the next legislative session.

“This is one of the best budget and policy years the agency has seen in many, many years,” said Caylee Noggle, commissioner of the State Department of Community Health (DCH), which administers Georgia Medicaid and the State Plan of Health. health benefits that covers teachers and government employees.

Commission members identified pay rates for mental health and labor shortages, coordination of care and helping people with mental illness avoid the criminal justice system as key priorities for the next cycle of reforms.

Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said she was concerned that Georgia’s relatively low pay rates for inpatient psychiatric treatment are contributing to a shortage of treatment options for Georgians.

Some Georgia mental health placement beds are occupied by people from other states, who are sent here due to Georgia’s low rates, Oliver said.

DCH recently raised the payment rates for some inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities.

“There’s still a big gap there,” acknowledged Noggle.

The new mental health services bill requires DCH to study and report on Georgia’s reimbursement rates by the end of this year.

Oliver said he would look closely at the results of that rate study. He urged Noggle to use her role to ensure the rates are raised.

“It starts with you,” Oliver told Noggle. “It’s a pretty high priority in my mind.”

The lack of treatment options is reflected in the number of children with mental health problems who repeatedly go to the emergency room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) hospitals, said Dr. Daniel Salinas, head of community clinical integration for the system. hospital.

Salinas said many of the children who repeatedly come to the CHOA emergency room with severe mental health problems have been in state custody and / or have had a history of physical or sexual abuse.

Salinas said there is a lack of “robust coordination” of mental health treatment plans for children.

“As an advocacy organization, let’s try not to [care coordination] for children’s mental health as discrimination, ”said Kim Jones, executive director of the Georgia branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Salinas said CHOA has allocated $ 170 million to develop mental health services over the next five years. The hospital system recently started an outpatient referral center and is experimenting with a program where mental health services are integrated into a primary care center.

Oliver said she was particularly concerned about a subset of children in state custody who do not have homestays or group homes and instead live in hotels.

He said there could be between 30 and 60 such children in Georgia living in hotels every day.

On the criminal justice front, Tanner said the issue of transportation to mental health services for people being picked up by law enforcement came up frequently in discussions last year.

A subcommittee chaired by presiding judge of the Georgia Supreme Court Michael Boggs will study how many of these rides are needed and how much they cost, Tanner said.

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