ATLANTA – A program at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, that houses and treats the institution’s forensic patients has been transferred to direct control of the central office of the new Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) in response to a critical report that followed a U.S. Department of Justice visit to the facility earlier this month. The hospital’s forensic program, which is housed in the stand-alone Cook Building, serves mental health consumers who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial by the state’s courts. The program had been under the management of Central State Hospital administrators, who oversee the 1,750-acre facility’s 100-plus buildings, the work of 2,543 employees, and the care of more than 680 consumers of behavioral health and developmental disability services. The Cook Building and the hospital’s forensic program will now operate separate from the hospital and will be managed directly by DBHDD’s Director of Forensic Services.
“The people we serve, as well as their families, have a right to expect that they’ll be safe in our facilities and that they’ll receive appropriate treatment and supervision,” said Dr. Frank Shelp, Commissioner of DBHDD. “The forensic program at the Cook Building hasn’t made enough progress to satisfy either us or the Department of Justice, and so we’re increasing our ability to make and monitor the changes necessary to ensure the safety and care of consumers.”
In April 2009, the Cook Building was the site of an altercation between consumers that ended in the death of Christopher Yates. Soon after the killing, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) determined that improvements were needed in both clinical operations and available staffing to prevent similar incidents at the facility in the future. At the time of their second visit in July 2009, DOJ found that little progress had been made.
On July 27, Commissioner Shelp met with Central State administrators and state office personnel to reassign the management of the program at the Cook Building, making it in effect a stand-alone hospital. Karen Bailey-Smith, PhD, DBHDD’s Director of Forensic Services, will run the facility, reporting directly to Commissioner Shelp.
On January 15, 2009, the State of Georgia entered into a settlement agreement with DOJ regarding the administration of the state’s seven regional hospitals, which serve consumers of mental health, developmental disability, and addictive disease services. The substantive provisions of the Settlement Agreement require Georgia to focus its effort on protection from harm, mental health care, seclusion or restraint, medical or nursing care, services to populations with specialized needs and discharge planning. The agreement includes a five-year time line for completion.
The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, which began operations on July 1, 2009, is the State’s new department responsible for services, programs, and policies for mental health, developmental disabilities, and addictive diseases.