CSB of Middle Georgia Takes Home Three Awards at the System of Care Conference

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The Association would like to take the time to congratulate the Community Service Board of Middle Georgia.  At the 9th Annual Georgia System of Care Conference held in Stone Mountain last week, the agency took home three awards.  Marnie Braswell received the System of Care Individual Merit Award, Lindsey Price received the System of Care Youth Award, and CSB of Middle Georgia took home the System of Care Agency Award.

At the Association, we commend Middle Georgia, for their wonderful work, and congratulate them on the awards they received!

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GACSB Assists With Supportive Housing Efforts

The month of June was extremely busy for those involved in supportive housing in Georgia due to the first meeting of the newly formed Reentry Housing Workgroup and Georgia Supportive Housing Association’s 2nd Annual Reentry Conference.  The GACSB is proud to have taken part in both of the aforementioned events, and is excited to see what will be done in terms of supportive housing for the individuals transitioning back into communities throughout Georgia.

The initial meeting of the Reentry Housing Work Group was hosted at the Georgia Justice Project in Atlanta.  Group members are comprised of advocates, service providers, experts, and many other stakeholders aiming to develop and propose strategies to improve housing opportunities for individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system.  The group came together as a direct response to the needs of Governor Nathan Deal’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform.  Essentially, the group intends to build strategies which focus on reducing the barriers to housing and increase housing options for individuals reentering communities from jail or prison.  In the long term, the group aims to increase affordable housing options for persons who have a criminal history and their families by way of policy and legislative intervention.  The group hopes to formulate and suggest concrete proposals to the Council on Criminal Justice Reform in time to be addressed during the 2017 legislative session.

During the initial meeting of the work group, the following organizations were represented: Georgia Justice Project, Georgia Supportive Housing Association, Presbyterians for a Better Georgia, Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, Housing Georgia, Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Department of Community Affairs, Department of Community Supervision, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, GACSB, Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, Mayson Avenue Cooperative, United Way, Corporation for Supportive Housing and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.  The work group’s co-leaders are Paul Bolster and Elizabeth Appley.  the The objectives and goals for the project were outlined, and then discussions transitioned into prioritizing the identified problems for the group to research.  Discourse on the existing barriers to housing for those reentering into communities—especially in terms of discrimination—was extremely robust, and the group alluded to systemic problems in both the private and public sectors that hinder many individuals’ ability to obtain housing.  Although, money is seemingly the largest barrier to securing housing, more often than not for the population up for discussion, the main factor of interference is the criminal record.  All of the barriers that were addressed during this meeting seem to be symptomatic of a systemic issue that will require political/legislative intervention.  Moving forward, the group will research and monitor any changes from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development that could assist in reducing impediments to individuals obtaining housing.  Also, the group will look to other cities and states to see what kinds of solutions may currently exist in regards to supportive housing, while examining the existing programs in Georgia that could be leveraged to support these individuals such as the DCS Reentry Partnership Housing Program and the DBHDD Georgia Housing Voucher Program.  The group intends to take special interest in those who are reentering into communities who may have either an intellectual or developmental disability and/or a mental health or substance use diagnosis or need.  It is believed that many individuals with certain disabilities or behavioral health conditions are first focused on securing housing before they enter into treatment after leaving jail or prison.  Having a stable living arrangement can also lead to better treatment adherence and subsequently, better treatment outcomes.

Many solutions were suggested to address ways that individuals will be able to receive supportive housing following their departure from jail or prison, and some of the proposed solutions are being molded to best fit the needs of Georgia’s society.  The work group will reconvene on July 11th.

The following day, many of the same individuals involved in the work group comprised a large portion of the speakers for the 2nd Annual Georgia Supportive Housing Association Reentry Conference.  These supportive housing experts were joined at the State Bar of Georgia by nearly 150 others from all over the State.

As everyone was still filing into the conference room, and immediately following the introduction from Georgia Supportive Housing Executive Director, Mariel Sivley, a gentleman named, Emmanuel Ellison, took to the stage.  Ellison is a graduate of the Athens Treatment and Accountability Court, and kicked off the event by sharing his personal experience of reentering back into the community.  He is currently living a life of recovery, and shared his gratitude for the efforts of many of the individuals in the room who helped him get to where he is now.

After Ellison’s powerful testimony, Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Michael Nail delivered the keynote for the Reentry Conference.  Nail provided attendees with the DCS state of affairs.  He alluded to the fact that communities and organizations must come together to support reentering individuals by stating, “Corrections is everyone’s business.”  He continued on to discuss the upcoming undertakings of the Department, and closed by reiterating his point that collaboration is necessary to make the system better.

More information was provided on DCS’s Housing Programs from their Business Operations Manager, Lisa Brown and their Regional Housing Coordinators.

Representatives from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities later provided an overview on the Housing Need and Choice Survey.  They included information about the development, process, and current outcomes, as well as the items included in the survey.

Later on, Sarah Schwartz, Executive Director for Mental Health America of Georgia provided a brief introduction to Mental Health First Aid. She suggested that many housing providers should take part in this initiative to better support those with mental health needs, and encouraged attendees to take part in the training.

The next to last topic for discussion was collaborations.  First panelists from GDC, DBHDD, DJJ, DCS, and DCA discussed the ways they work collectively with a number of public and private partners to better serve individuals throughout the State of Georgia.  After the conceptual aspects of the collaborative efforts piece were demonstrated, Talley Wells and Susan Walker Goico (Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.) were joined by Elizabeth Danley (The United Way of Greater Atlanta) and Chad Jones (View Point Health) to discuss the partnerships they have formed to address the issues discussed during the rest of the conference in the Gwinnett area.  This collaboration formed by the aforementioned organizations coordinates the transition from jail or prison to connect those with mental health diagnoses to services.  They all have provided a unique perspective to address the complex issue, which allows them to strategize better by playing off each organization’s strengths.

To close out the conference Doug Ammar from the Georgia Justice Project and Marissa Dodson from the Southern Center for Human Rights discussed ways to advance advocacy efforts in for supportive housing.  Ammar utilized his explanation of his organization to show what they have done to push the envelope on this cause.  He explained how the Georgia Justice Project has positioned themselves as a, “private public defender,” that helps individuals with social services and other post release supports, which aim heavily towards securing housing for individuals reentering into Georgia communities.  Marissa Dodson discusses a multitude of potential strategies for supportive housing authorities to look to in order to provide more sustainable housing placements.  Ultimately, she urged individuals in attendance to push for political/legislative intervention especially in terms of better enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, enhancing incentive programs and education efforts for private housing providers, and strengthening relationships with local housing authorities.

The GACSB will be providing administrative support to the Georgia Supportive Housing Association during the 2016 Georgia Supportive Housing Conference November 7th and 8th.

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GACSB Ushers in Statewide “Zero Suicide” Policy

July 1st marked the full implementation date of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ (DBHDD) “Suicide Prevention, Screening, Brief Intervention and Monitoring,” policy often referred to as DBHDD Policy 01-118.  With this policy implementation, Georgia has become only the 2nd State in the entire Country to take political action in direct response to the Zero Suicide: International Declaration & Social Movement held at the Institute for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL) Annual Leadership Exchange in Atlanta, Georgia on September 21st & 22nd of last year.

The entire purpose of the event was to compose the aforementioned joint effort between the IIMHL and the International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP).  Executive Director, Robyn Garrett, was in attendance during this summit, and played a prominent role in the synthesis of the declaration.

The Director of the Division of Behavioral Health for DBHDD, Monica Johnson, led the charge in the creation of Policy 01-118.  Her pragmatic efforts through the entire preparation process have helped our member organizations extensively to mobilize their agencies to accommodate a policy that transcends basic changes in day-to-day operations.  The policy—along with its parenting Zero Suicide Declaration—beckons a paradigm shift geared towards eliminating suicide in health and behavioral healthcare.  As the Suicide Prevention Resource Center states, “The foundational belief of Zero Suicide is that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.  It presents both a bold goal and an aspirational challenge.”  Johnson, and her entire division, went above and beyond the challenge presented by the Zero Suicide initiative by creating the policy only eight days after the summit.  Also, Travis Fretwell and Sally Vander Straeten from the DBHDD have been more than helpful to our provider organizations as we all prepared for July 1st, and continue to be wonderful partners during this process.

Policy 01-118 and the Zero Suicide Initiative have been composed as direct responses to the public health problem that suicide has become in the United States.  Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and in the State of Georgia.  Due to the predisposition that individuals with behavioral health disorders have towards suicidal behaviors, the aforementioned documents focus primarily on behavioral health organizations, such as the 26 community service boards (CSBs) represented by the GACSB.  The documents—along with a growing body of research—recognize that when evidence-based practices are employed, and when everyone within an organization receives training to identify some of the indicators of suicidality, then suicide can be prevented.  Suicide Behavior Disorder is now identified under the DSM-5 as a “condition for further study” and is recognized as a separate clinical issue from other diagnoses/disorders.  Ultimately, research and experts point to behavioral health providers to screen for suicidal ideation, means, and behaviors as well as urging all individuals within those organizations to provide brief intervention and monitoring of individuals who display certain signs of suicidality.  Many of our provider members’ staff have all undergone training in evidence-based gatekeeper training that is required under the policy as suggested by the Zero Suicide Declaration such as: Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR), Safetalk, and Mental Health First Aid.  The majority of the CSBs staff responsible from screening, assessment, intervention, and monitoring have also been trained in Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) as well.

In conclusion, our provider organizations—in tandem with the GACSB and in partnership with DBHDD—are working pragmatically, towards the objectives and goals set forth by the Zero Suicide Initiative; and ultimately aiming to prevent all deaths from suicide in behavioral healthcare throughout the State of Georgia.

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GACSB Travel to the Nation’s Capitol

WASHINGTON, D.C—June 6th, over 600 behavioral health advocates from all over the United States ventured to the Nation’s Capitol to advocate on behalf of individuals with mental illness and/or substance use disorders during the National Council for Behavioral Health’s annual Hill Day.  It was much milder than a typical June in The Federal City, but all it took was a spark from speakers such as President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, Linda Rosenberg and former Congressman, Patrick Kennedy—amongst many others—to spark a fire that led all the way from the Hyatt Regency ballroom to the steps of the Congressional office buildings.

CkRs7eDVAAAPWlRTeam Georgia at National Council for Behavioral Health’s Hill Day 

The GACSB was proud to be a part of such an incredible event.  Executive Director, Robyn Garrett, served as State Captain for the 5th year in a row!  With the help of representatives from GACSB member organizations, Lookout Mountain and View Point Health, along with some friends of the Association, Kevin Hines and Joe Williams of 17th & Montgomery, the GACSB was able to discuss a variety of legislative issues with nearly all of the Georgia Congressmen or their staff members.

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Linda Rosenberg, MSW, President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health

The largest behavioral health advocacy event in the United States spanned from June 6th to June 7th, and was the final product of collaborations between the National Council for Behavioral Health, and 14 other national behavioral health organizations.  Although the coffee provided on Monday morning was far-less-than delicious or strong enough to wake the jet-lagged half of the crowd, Linda Rosenberg’s passionate ‘welcome speech’ provided a much more effective awakening for the group.  Throughout her discussion she provided an overview of the state of affairs in the field, and essentially engaged attendees to join in her ‘call to arms’ to let each and every voice of those in attendance echo through the halls of the Congress buildings, and usher in a paradigm shift to better support those living with mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

 

When Rosenberg left the stage, she handed the microphone to William Cope Myers of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.  Myers spoke briefly of the struggles that he has faced in his life, being an individual in long term recovery.  His first-hand account of the struggles and the overwhelming need for political intervention to better support individuals in need of the services provided by a number of individuals in the crowd, presented a very important message—our stories have the power to change lives. As Myers left the stage, the crowd was on their feet applauding him and fellow behavioral health advocacy titan Rosenberg for the stellar opening session that they provided.

Hill Day proceeded with a group of expert panelists who provided their insights on how advocates can work to achieve comprehensive mental health and addiction reform through Congress.  Experts included in these discussions were, Vice President of ____ for the National Council, Chuck Ingoglia, Debbie Plotnick for Mental Health America, Andrew Sperling for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Phyllis Foxworth for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.  With Linda Rosenberg moderating, nearly everyone in attendance knew that the difficult questions would be the ones up for discussion amongst the panelists, but the nature of the inquiries did not seem to faze any one of the participants.  As dialogue stimulated the thoughts and subsequent rebuttals amongst the panelists, the crowd was hanging on each and every word, hoping that the information that the speakers provided would assist them in their Congressional meetings on day 2 of Hill Day.  One of the overwhelming themes of the discussion pertained to the necessity to address behavioral health issues on a continuum in terms of prevention, early intervention, the integration of care, and sustainable funding outside of the traditional unsustainable grant programs.  The panelists urged individuals to ask their Representatives and Senators to vote for appropriations towards behavioral healthcare, so that the public safety net can remain in tact, and to explain to their Representatives and Senators that grant-based funding as it remains is indicative of disparities between how physical and behavioral health issues are addressed.  It is important to note that on many occasions throughout the event, the issue was raised regarding the lack of enforcement of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, and the subsequent rules set forth in 2013

After a robust overview of the current political landscape of behavioral health, David Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report and Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, provided attendees about what the upcoming 2016 elections will mean in the field.  The two political Editors & analysts discussed their speculations relating to the implications each Presidential nominee will have on the field of behavioral health if they are elected.  They each took their confab further as to contemplate the political shifts in Congress that November may hold.  Following the light-hearted session, one thing was made clear: the United States will be seeing drastic changes come January 20th, 2017.

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Nathan Gonzales from the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report Speaks to Hill Day Attendees

Hill Day gave all of the individuals in attendance the opportunity to attend two breakouts in succession to gain more insight on some of the items that the morning sessions discussed.  Topics included: Protecting patient privacy in an integrated care environment—modernizing 42 CFR Part 2, New Treatments and Challenges to Access, Advocacy 101, Advanced Advocacy, Advancing Health IT for Behavioral Health: National Trends and Opportunities, CCBHCs: What’s Next, and a session to further dissect the talking points provided by the National Council.

The groups made their pilgrimage back down the two flights of escalators back into the Regency Ballroom with Chris Carroll, Director of Health Care Financing and Systems Integration for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), already on stage to present the SAMHSA Agency Update.  His rundown of the Administration’s strategic initiatives included addressing the prevention of substance abuse and mental illness, health care and health systems integration, trauma and justice, recovery support, health information technology, and workforce development.  The pending GACSB strategic plan for fiscal year 2017 adheres largely to SAMHSA’s strategic initiatives, and the Association works pragmatically to alleviate problems related to all of these issues for the Georgia Community Service Boards.  The inclusion of SAMHSA’s update in the Hill Day program was essentially to let all of the attendees know what kind of programs and initiatives that can be possible through advocating for behavioral health to Congress.

Following Carroll’s succinct rundown of SAMHSA’s upcoming strategic plan, the group was pleased to welcome U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (Michigan) to Hill Day.  Stabenow conveyed the presence of bipartisan support for the Excellence in Mental Health Act (S. 2525/H.R. 4567) and the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (S. 1830/H.R. 2759), and the need for action now!  Through powerful rhetoric she brought the crowd to their feet, as she provided an update on the Excellence in Mental Health Act, and the way she showcased her pragmatic demeanor towards getting the piece of legislation passed.  When the crowd quelled, and Senator Stabenow departed, the second group of panelists took to the stage to focus on addiction legislation that are fast approaching the floors of the U.S. Senate and House.  The group was comprised of experts in the field of addiction such as: Chuck Ingoglia and Becky Vaughn, Vice President of Addictions, for the National Council, Rob Morrison of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, and John Luke Riley for Young People in Recovery.  With Ingoglia moderating the discussions the panelists batted around a variety of topics from the re-authorization of funding of provisions under the  Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) of 2015 (S. 524/H.R. 953)—which most recently passed through the House on May 13, 2016, and is currently awaiting conference on House amendments—to funding SAMHSA initiatives (i.e. Community Mental Health Services and the Substance Abuse Prevention & Treatment block grants) and training for first responders on crisis intervention (H.R. 2646).  Due to Congress and President Obama’s agreement to pose strict caps on discretionary spending set forth by the 2011 Budget Control Act over the next two years ($15 billion available for non-defense discretionary spending above the cap), the panelists provided ways to frame certain talking points and requests pertaining to the aforementioned legislative items to engage Congressional members in a way that emphasizes the need for financial investments now that will not only save lives, but reduce long term costs.  After the question and answer period with the panelists, the structured portion of the first day of the event came to a close.

 

The event reconvened on Tuesday, when State Captains met up with their delegates.  As Hill Day attendees filed into the room, which now had each table labeled alphabetically by state, Georgia delegates enjoyed a hearty breakfast just prior to commencement of the program for the day.  When Linda Rosenberg made her way to address the crowd, she was followed by champion behavioral health advocate, visionary, former U.S. Senator, and the archetype of long-term recovery, Patrick Kennedy.

 

Before Kennedy began to speak, Rosenberg reminded those who attended Hill Day last year about the work done through the efforts of actress and Musician, Demi Lovato.  “She is an amazing advocate; sharing her story and encouraging everyone to do good things, and she asked all of us—all Americans to speak up, and the response was extraordinary,” Rosenberg declared as she segued into introducing one of the video products that was filmed in part during last year’s Hill Day for Lovato’s Be Vocal Campaign.  The somber video gained the attention of the crowd, as it cycled through a multitude of short audio and video clips that aim to empower those on the road toward recovery.  Ultimately, the campaign aims for people to speak up for those in need, and spread the word that recovery from mental illness and/or substance use disorders and living a life of wellness is possible.

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Linda Rosenberg provides an overview of the Be Vocal Campaign

The message to “Be Vocal” was handed off to author and champion of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, Patrick Kennedy.

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Former Senator Patrick Kennedy fires up the crowd at Hill Day

He began his rhetoric by discussing the power of advocacy and the collective voice.  After the introduction commending Linda Rosenberg, the National Council, and their ability to advocate cooperatively with a number of partners for such a great cause, he began with a story.  As the youngest member of Congress, when Kennedy was 27, and being from the smallest State of Rhode Island and the minority party, he noted how he was able to have his name first on a bill that stated, “the brain is part of the body.” Kennedy continued to expound, “This had to be debated for many years because Congress couldn’t really agree on the proposition that the brain was part of the body, and then in turn somebody thought reimbursing for illnesses in the brain in the same way they reimburse for any other illness in the body…now that was hard for us to come to agreement on, so it took us a long time, but thankfully, in 2008, we got the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act signed into law, as President George W. Bush was hitting the exits.”  He included that no one was really aware that Bush signed the $3.4 billion act, because it was included in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which appropriated bailout money to the Nation’s banks.  “Whatever it takes to pass this thing,” Kennedy recounted, as he provided a response to  Senator Chris Dodd’s suggestion for him to essentially sponsor the grossly unpopular and largest bailout of our Nation’s banks in the history of our country.  The unpopularity of this piece of legislation, and Kennedy’s willingness to place his name on this item, attests to his devotion to mental health and addiction reform.  He continued on to say, “The exciting thing that is changing in mental health today, is that were going through the front door to get things passed, not the back door.”  The former Congressman’s empowering speech continued, mentioning that it is unacceptable to see the public health problems of suicide and overdose, and the reduction in life expectancy due to untreated mental illness.   He beckoned the crowd to go to their Representatives and Senators, and include that, “This is a historic moment; all of the things are aligning to make this an opportunity for us to get fundamental change in the way we address mental health and addiction, [since] it’s something that is essential to every aspect of American society.”  He expressed the inability to have a fully functional education system without social and emotional learning; he mentioned the inability to have a productive workforce without adequate workplace support for mental health—depression, anxiety, and addiction treatment in the workplace; he explained that health care systems cannot treat mental health and addiction as marginal issues.  “Mental health and addiction treatment need to be at the center of every aspect of American society,” Kennedy reiterated.

A notion of discontent then became evident in the man’s demeanor, as he explained how grant funding for mental illness and addictions are unacceptable, and advocates must push for changes in the system that aim for more sustainable supports for these conditions.  “We want Congress to go big before they go home, and we don’t want them—in the moment of the apex of this national public health issue—to do something mediocre or marginal to address this fundamental issue that fellow American’s are dying at record rates that’s literally effecting the life expectancy rates of all Americans,”

Kennedy demanded.  As his words turned to conviction he explained that, “Now is not the time for us to get patted on the head and [be told], ‘Just take this little pilot program; just take this little authorization.’ If we accept that, we are in collective denial!”

Kennedy proceeded to discuss some other suggested talking points for advocates to utilize when approaching their Representatives and Senators from calling for insurance information disclosure to mental health first aid.  His profound closing statement, which yielded a standing ovation from the crowd included, “This is a civil rights issue. For us to have our community and [people] in recovery be treated as human beings with full dignity that their illness is no different than any other illness, then they could be treated effectively.  Then we need to say stop discriminating against those with mental illness and addiction, because not only is it against the law, but it is a violation of human rights, and it is a violation of civil rights.”

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Health Policy Associate, Josiah Conrad and Executive Director, Robyn Garrett talk shop with Patrick Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy’s words were very effective in getting advocates to rally behind the articles of proposed legislation tucked in the folders sitting in front of each individual in attendance during day two of National Council’s Hill Day.

From there, along with advocates from all over the Country, the team from Georgia ventured over to the Congressional Office buildings to meet with Georgia’s legislators.  The GACSB would like to thank Representative David Scott and Martha Cramer, Representative Barry Loudermilk and Colin Carr, Representative Rick Allen and Katie Hunter, Representative Tom Graves and Jason Murphy, Representative Buddy Carter, Representative Rob Woodall, Representative Jody Hice, Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator David Purdue for taking time out of their busy schedules to accommodate the group.

 

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