As the Georgia General Assembly is currently in session, another topic that we’ll try to stay on top of for you is the funding of the state’s seven mental health hospitals.The Georgia Department of Human Resources runs these facilities statewide.The seven hospitals are Northwest Georgia Regional in Rome, Georgia Regional in Atlanta, Central State in Milledgeville, East Central Regional in Augusta, Georgia Regional in Savannah, Southwestern State in Thomasville, and West Central Regional in Columbus.
Thanks in large part to an investigative report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution this year; attention has been focused on the appalling medical care deficiencies at these hospitals.Justly, these hospitals have become a hotbed of medical malpractice claims.
In 2007, the hospitals reported twenty-one deaths.One hundred and fifteen patients died in the four-year period from 2002 to 2006.All of these deaths arose from abuse or neglect.Most of these facilities are understaffed and overcrowded.Many of these deaths occurred due to over-medicating, misdiagnosing symptoms, and nurses or aides failing to follow doctor’s orders.
In 2002, federal regulators cited several deficiencies for correction.In 2006, these deficiencies had still not been corrected.An independent consulting group hired by the governor’s office issued a scathing review of patient care.Federal and state inspectors continually issue citations for failures in basic policy and care.
Advocates for the mentally ill, such as the National Alliance for Mental Illness, propose that states encourage random hospital visits by families, fund pay increases for nurses and aides, provide medical school loan pay-off programs for doctors who practice in state-run facilities, set up independent board oversight of patient deaths, and remodel out-dated facilities.
The Department of Human Resources contends that many problems could be improved with more state funding.DHR also believes the state should address community resources for patient care.Mental health patients often need housing, transportation and employment on discharge.Some patients cannot be discharged because they have nowhere to go.
Currently, the United States Department of Justice is investigating Georgia’s state-run hospitals for violations of civil rights laws.The Department of Justice could file a lawsuit in federal court forcing Georgia officials to overhaul the hospitals.
Governor Sonny Perdue’s spending plan for fiscal years 2008 and 2009 includes $36.2 million to improve the state-run mental health hospitals.However, only $16.4 million counts toward “new” spending.The money will go for higher salaries, increased staffing and more training of employees.Much of the additional funding will go to turn-around efforts at Georgia Regional, Northwest Georgia and West Central State.The other $19.4 million erases deficits created when federal funding fell short of projections.
One area that remains unfounded is the ombudsman program that was created in 2000, but never implemented because the legislature did not fund it.The ombudsman is to investigate reports of abuse and help families with community placement.
State legislators and the governor’s office contend that these problems did not arise overnight, and they cannot be solved in one year either.Sadly, the people who will suffer as a result of the state’s poorly run mental hospitals are the patients and their families.