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Hello friends, colleagues and supporters. We seem to have turned the page to fall with the emergence of pumpkins, football and changing leaves. These are reminders that despite the uncertainty that has characterized 2020, elements of our existence roll forward, albeit with new practices and precautions, and new opportunities as well. Conversations with friends, partners and stakeholders that rely on DBHDD and our provider network have challenged me to acknowledge the exhaustion and unpredictability we have experienced, and at the same time embrace the joy of small pleasures and reinvigorate our safety net mission.
As we approach the six-month mark since the “Shelter in Place” order, you may be, like me, experiencing a diverse range of emotions on any given day, or any given hour. In March, many of us presumed we would be “over” this pandemic by now. With eyes wide open, we have come to recognize that “over” and “past” are probably not the right words to capture our understanding of COVID-19. Multiple elements of daily life for our staff, providers and the people we serve have been fundamentally altered and we have been challenged to adapt almost everything we do.
The question I hear most often right now is “What next?” I hear it from our neighbors wondering what the start of school will look like. I hear it from families whose children engage in sports activities. I hear it on the lips of local business owners, including my favorite coffee shop, struggling to remain afloat with to-go orders and reduced seating. Closer to home I hear it from my colleagues in the 2 Peachtree location wondering about the viability of our office space and conference rooms. I hear it from providers in our service delivery network, eager to serve as the safety net, but stretched to meet guidelines and demands. I know our hospitals are wondering “what next” as well. Will there be a time when the uncertainty stimulated by COVID19 does not dominate our daily planning and decision-making?
It’s hard to put words to the array of feelings and experiences we have endured in 2020. Each week seems to add new twists and turns to an already complicated storyline. Looking backward, I am able to reflect with pride on the DBHDD hospital system and provider network. Our collective ability to lean into uncertainty and remain focused on our mission to serve has led to remarkable progress and continuity of care for many vulnerable Georgians. But we have also experienced grief, gaps in service, and longing for the way things used to be. Like me, you may recognize some simple activities and pleasures that we have taken for granted. I have also experienced unexpected joy in stories of acts of compassion, empathy, and courage. It is as if the full human experience has been squeezed into the course of a few months.
It seems challenging to make sense of the world around us right now. We are still trying to understand COVID-19 while protecting ourselves and our families and continuing to serve vulnerable individuals throughout our hospital and community-based safety net network. At the same time, the fiscal damage wreaked by the pandemic is felt in every corner of the economy, and state agencies are facing difficult budget reductions. Amidst this landscape, we are now experiencing unrest and violence across our nation and close to home in Georgia as well, and we know that minority communities have been disproportionately impacted. These surely are trying times.
Whether you are someone who receives DBHDD services, a family member, a provider, an advocate, a DBHDD team member, an elected official, or just getting to know us, I want to thank you for your support of our work and the people we serve. I also want to thank you for taking the time to read this edition of our newsletter, which offers updates as well as messages of optimism and hope.
Greetings! Many of you may know that March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. During this important month, we join with our partners – individuals, families, advocates and allies, providers, employers, and community leaders – in celebrating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and raising awareness about inclusion in our communities.
2020 SOCA CALL FOR WORKSHOP PROPOSALS:
DBHDD Division of Behavioral Health and Georgia Interagency Directors Team13th Annual System of Care Academy Conference
2020 Vision: Starting Strong for the Next Decade
June 25-26, 2020
Atlanta Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort
Emile Risby, M.D., joined the DBHDD leadership team as chief medical officer in August of 2011. In June of 2013 his role expanded, and he became the director of the Division of Hospital Services and chief medical officer. Prior to joining the DBHDD leadership team, he served as the clinical director of Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta through a contract with Emory University from August 2006 through July 2011. He has more than 30 years of experience as a psychiatrist in the public sector and is board certified in psychiatry and forensic psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
As we begin 2020, I am filled with hope and enthusiasm as I see a landscape full of opportunities to serve Georgians in need and also to impact the health care environment of the future in our state. We have been included in many vital conversations regarding health care. There is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and substance use disorders, and also acknowledgement of the growing population and needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. DBHDD and members of our provider network have remarkable experience, expertise, and commitment to high-quality service that has enabled a measurable transformation of our system across our five state hospitals and our network of community-based services. We are also fortunate to have strong and knowledgeable advocates, clients, and family members who challenge us to be persistent in our demand for improved access and resources. Together, we seek solutions that are not separate from health care conversations, but rather a vital part of the dialogue in Georgia.
Greg Hoyt joined DBHDD when it was the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Addictive Diseases under the former Department of Human Resources team in April 2000 as the regional coordinator for the West Central area of Georgia. Greg also served as the director of regional operations and the acting division director before being named director of hospital operations in July of 2007. He has more than 30 years of executive-level management experience in the human services and health care industry, in the states of Alabama and Georgia. Of note, Greg served as an assistant commissioner for the Alabama Department of Human Services.
As the year winds down and we enter the holiday season, I want to express my sincerest gratitude to each of you. Whether you are a provider, a DBHDD staff member, an elected official, an advocate, or part of one of the many agencies and organizations that support the people we serve, your work makes a meaningful difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Georgians who count on you.
Next week, our nation celebrates Veterans Day, paying homage to the men and women who have fought to preserve our freedom. As Americans, we are called to support those who were willing to lay everything on the line to protect and defend us. As behavioral health providers, we have a special responsibility to support our veterans as they transition from service to society. Georgia is the proud home of approximately 700,000 veterans, including many who work for or are served by DBHDD and our providers. Over 150 veterans choose to work at DBHDD, and there are many others working in our safety net network. Every one of us owes a great debt to them – and all veterans – for their courage, conviction, and sacrifice.
Paul has the difficult job of managing two campuses and balancing the art of satisfying two masters, DBHDD and Augusta University.
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.
John Robertson joined our team in July 2007 as the Hospital Administrator of West Central Georgia Regional Hospital (WCGRH) when we were a division of the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Prior to joining us, John had over 20+ years of executive level management experience in the for-profi
Charles Li, M.D., joined the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities as the regional hospital administrator of Georgia Regional Hospital – Savannah on January 2, 2006.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and today is World Suicide Prevention Day. In the last two decades, the rate of suicide has increased by 16 percent in Georgia and 30 percent across the nation. Recently, high-profile suicides covered the news in our state, but the tragedy of suic
DBHDD has been at the leading edge of innovation in several areas, and I am excited to share an update on important work we are advancing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In March, we launched our inaugural Supported Employment Forum at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mounta