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This is not the column I originally planned for this month.
Like many Georgians, I expected that the worst of the COVID pandemic would be behind us by now and that we would be celebrating back-to-school, enjoying return to sports, and anticipating cooler days ahead. Instead, we find ourselves enduring—trying to hold on as this global disease continues to wreak havoc on our healthcare system; trying to accept what we cannot change as the pandemic continues to hamper our travel plans and ability to gather without fear, and trying to cope as COVID continues to take the lives of people we love and admire in our communities. It’s maddening.
July is National Minority Mental Health Month. Per the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH), this designation was created to raise awareness of the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States.
We were very fortunate to be able to interview Terri Lawless, M.D., of East Central Regional Hospital prior to her retirement from DBHDD with close to 30 years of dedicated service. In case you don’t know Dr. Lawless, she has served in several leadership roles at the Gracewood Campus.
Like so many aspects of our lives right now, end of school year “traditions” have been adjusted, disrupted, and compromised.
While I have personally experienced the frustration and disappointment of these limitations, I have also been impressed to witness the creative solutions that led to unexpected joy: intimate graduations, drive-in slide shows in school parking lots to celebrate the school year, prom dresses with matching masks. The resilience of students, teachers, and administrators is boundless.
March was replete with lookbacks and milestone markers acknowledging the one-year anniversary of the events when COVID became “real” for each of us. While we might recognize a different day or a specific moment as the beginning of this new reality, together, we have shared a collective historical experience that was also deeply personal.
On any given day, it’s easy to feel burdened by the weight of the global pandemic, anxious about the uncertainties of COVID-19, and restricted by the limitations it spawned. It’s understandable if you find yourself in a constant cycle of frustration and disappointment.
In a time like this one, it becomes essential to celebrate the moments of hope and joy that break through grim milestones and the feelings of isolation or grief.
Good news can recharge us on our exhausting days and accelerate our optimism. Amidst the challenges that remain pressing and real, we have received good news, and it bears repeating.
For all of us worn down by the events of 2020, the New Year has so far offered little relief. Where we thought we might turn the page from 2020 on January 1, we found the same, tiring tests on our energy and optimism: COVID-19 infection rates soared, our healthcare system reached a new level of overburdened and lines swelled at food banks as Americans continued to suffer through the economic consequences of a global pandemic.
Welcome to the DBHDD’s Office of Behavioral Health Prevention & Federal Grants Holiday Cookbook. This has been a very difficult year for most of us and our office wanted to share the holiday spirit from our family and friends across the state with you. We wanted to help you get in the holiday spirit and shed some of those “bah humbug” feelings you may have.
I learned this week that the word of the year for 2020 is “pandemic”—not exactly breaking news. I can certainly acknowledge the power that this pandemic has had over our lives in 2020. And yet I want to offer my own word of the year for 2020, and that word is “hope.” For me, our individual and collective sense of hope has also been a driving force in 2020. As we engage in a very different holiday season than our traditional one, I aim to celebrate this gift of hope.
The following is excerpted from DPH’s May 2020 report: Georgia Opioid Strategic Planning, Multi-Cultural Needs Assessment. “An interdisciplinary team of Kennesaw State University researchers captured the voices of Georgians related to resources, services, and treatments for opioid and substance misuse disorder through a Multicultural Needs Assessment Project.” The information contained in this report may be useful for behavioral health providers and policymakers looking for ways to strategically plan for improvements in opioid and substance use treatment service delivery and better outcomes for the diverse and underserved populations we serve.
November brings the opportunity to reflect on both service and gratitude, as we celebrate both Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. While so many elements of life are viewed differently in 2020, there are a few constants to be honored, including these very special holidays. Each one is important to Americans, and I have always admired the way these two holidays illuminate the human experience and remind us of the ways in which we bring out the best in each other.
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.