Hurricane Ready

The close of Summer was bustling with activity at DBHDD, and as we start a new season, I want to stop and recognize the many heroes we have in our DBHDD family.  Last month, as Georgia prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma, DBHDD staged two significant evacuations to protect the people we serve.    

Individuals at Georgia Regional Hospital-Savannah, as well as staff and staff families, evacuated via buses to East Central Regional Hospital.  We moved nearly 180 individuals and more than 200 staff, family members (and pets!).  I want to acknowledge the leadership teams at both hospitals, led by Andy Mannich in Savannah and Paul Brock in Augusta, as well as the dozens of staff members at both hospitals who worked around the clock to ensure the safety and well-being of the people we serve.  The amount of preparation and communication to coordinate food, power, water, medicine and sleeping arrangements for this large group is nothing short of astonishing.  The administration of this transition was remarkable.  Staff representing the great majority of departments within each of the hospitals were directly engaged.  It is most important to note the fortitude of the staff.  Those in Augusta worked tirelessly to make room for additional individuals and staff, and the Savannah crew left their with personal property at risk, and many slept on floors in empty units until area hotels—booked by other evacuees—became available.  The spirit and dedication was evident as we visited for support.  After a three-day stay, the team returned to Savannah to find only minimal damage to the Savannah campus.  We are very fortunate.

We also opened Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville to serve evacuees from the Gateway Community Service Board’s intellectual and developmental disability residential clients, as well as the women’s program.  Here, we hosted more than 240 individuals.  The preparation and collaboration among local partners allowed us to provide safe space, power, food and clinical oversight for vulnerable individuals, and staff and family members.  While in Thomasville, one of the ladies in the women’s program gave birth to a baby! 

Our capable leadership on the ground, led by David Sofferin, director of the Office of Public Affairs, and Fred Baker, director of Maintenance at the SWSH Campus, must be commended for their creative problem solving and daily optimism.  We also received tremendous community support from Flowers Foods and the Thomas County School District, which provided and served food to the evacuees.

In both Augusta and Thomasville, staff engaged did whatever it took to get the job done, with many providing support and services different than their “day job.”  Several evacuated staff family members helped by volunteering with food and pet service as well.  Many of the evacuated staff were away from loved ones and property back home, but they stay focused on the task at hand....service, health, and safety for the people we serve.

The two evacuations and relocations were a total team effort by DBHDD, the people we serve, and many community partners.  We would not have been successful without everyone working together and focused on the same goal.  This is something we should all truly be proud of!

It is impossible to list every DBHDD team member who contributed to this effort, but I want to recognize the immeasurable support and presence of these executive leaders in addition to those mentioned above:

  • Jeff Minor, Chief Operating Officer
  • Amy Howell, Assistant Commissioner and General Counsel
  • Emile Risby, Medical Director
  • Greg Hoyt, Director of Hospital Operations
  • Mark Green, Director of Human Resources

DBHDD is an agency filled with team members who have proved that they are capable of rising to meet a need – no matter how many challenges it may present.  But this commitment and work ethic does not exist only in crisis.  From the staff at each of our five state hospitals, to our team members coordinating services in the field, to those at 2 Peachtree, and our providers who work day in and day out to provide or support high-quality care for the people we serve—we are surrounded by heroes making daily contributions large and small to Georgians with behavioral health challenges and intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Thank you for your devotion and commitment to the people we serve.  You are my heroes.



Judy Fitzgerald

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