Our Optimistic Future

October 8, 2019

It appears that cooler temperatures have finally arrived. Fall is at our doorstep, and I think we all welcome the change. I am eager to share my optimism about the future, but first I want to offer a reflection of two important events that DBHDD has hosted in recent weeks. Most recently, the Behavioral Health division hosted the Annual Behavioral Health Symposium, welcoming more than 500 participants from around the state to Callaway Gardens. This gathering is a robust opportunity to learn, grow and connect with a wide range of educational opportunities in every area of service delivery across the life span.

In addition, we hosted an awards dinner celebrating excellence in our provider network, with award winners in each region and our Provider of the Year Award shared by AmericanWork, Inc. and the Community Service Board of Middle Georgia. It was delightful to celebrate all of the positive work happening in communities around the state. It was also a great honor to recognize Representative Terry England (District 116), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, as a champion supporter of behavioral health in Georgia. His commitment to our most vulnerable citizens was underscored by Representative Katie Dempsey (District 13), chair of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, who accepted the Commissioner’s Award on his behalf.

Prior to this event, DBHDD hosted the annual Suicide Prevention Conference also at Callaway Gardens. This was another opportunity to advance awareness and promote suicide prevention and intervention activities that save lives. We support teams around the state that are present in schools and community settings to connect with individuals, families, and professionals and share evidence-based resources and strategies. Wherever we go, people want more information and they want tools to respond. Our mission is to meet those needs.

These learning events are essential in support of Georgia’s workforce. We are in the midst of workforce shortages in every area of our service delivery system, from the front line to psychiatrists. These shortages are felt most acutely in rural areas. While there are important strategies to grow the workforce and expand to non-traditional treatment options, it is equally important to me to retain the dedicated staff members that currently choose to work in safety net settings such as our hospitals and community providers. This is challenging and rewarding work, and convening to develop and enhance clinical and leadership skills is essential to our success. People left each of these conferences feeling awed, inspired, and energized to apply learnings to facilitate recovery across the state.

Why is DBHDD’s commitment to continuing education so important? The health care environment is dynamic, and the safety net is vital to the people of Georgia. Ten years ago, DBHDD was a newly formed agency with important gaps to fill. Our systems were inconsistent, fragmented, and underfunded. We were lacking in accountability, role clarity, and customer service. We underwent a complete transformation, engaging all elements of our service delivery system. We established a functional infrastructure, strengthened our provider network, and aligned our hospital system with recovery principles. We have dramatically improved our technology tools to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of care. We have anchored toward big goals and achieved tangible successes. I am very proud of our teams and our providers for embracing this necessary transformation.

As we enter the health care environment of the future, we must take the next step, evolving from a network that delivers services to one that delivers value. How do we frame this continued development? We start by listening. DBHDD has numerous advisory councils offering on-the-ground perspectives about what’s working and what is needed. These groups include individuals, families, and providers that ensure we understand how our policies and practices impact people. We have a Provider Relations Team that seeks input through a variety of sources. In addition, I conducted a series of Listening Sessions across the Department. I want to thank all of our team members that agreed to be part of these informative conversations. From all of these sources, I know that people are thinking about the future. We see the changes in our own health care options, medical visits and delivery systems and we know that there is no room to stand still. Our team members and providers have acknowledged that we need to be more prepared for a complex future.

With a view toward this dynamic health care future, DBHDD has embraced a new purpose statement that complements our vision and mission and positions us for the future. We believe the following:

Georgia’s health care environment is full of risk and opportunity. We believe DBHDD and the safety net have an essential role in this environment. We have embraced a framework that establishes a core set of objectives and strategies that unite us in our pursuit of shared success.

These objectives are to:

  • Successfully fulfill the principles of the ADA Settlement Extension;
  • Influence the design and direction of the health care environment in Georgia;
  • Manage a network of providers; and
  • Be a team of individuals who are effective, engaged, empowered, and recognized.

We are facing some serious challenges: I have already mentioned crippling workforce shortages. In addition, our forensic population continues to grow and the people we serve are aging. Our crisis system is stretched in every corner of the state. Addiction has gripped our communities. In spite of these obstacles, my optimism is strong because the power of recovery is real and our resolve to serve is unwavering. 

DBHDD’s transformation journey will continue with a sharp eye toward the future and a growing desire to be more nimble and retain our passion for Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. There are many elements that will factor into our success, but the most important one is you: whether you are a DBHDD team member, a provider, an advocate, or supporter, we need you to embrace your purpose and calling and lean in to the work of the health care environment of the future. I am eager to tackle this challenge together. Georgia is counting on us!

Judy Fitzgerald
Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities