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Community Service Boards a crucial part of Georgia’s healthcare system

January 21, 2019 GMT

Highland Rivers Health is a type of agency called a Community Service Board (CSB). There are 25 CSBs in Georgia that provide the same services Highland Rivers does, and these agencies are a critical part of the state’s healthcare system.

But if you’re unfamiliar with the term Community Service Board, you’re not alone. Not many people know the term, and fewer probably understand what they are. I’ll be one of the first to acknowledge that ‘Community Service Board’ isn’t very descriptive and doesn’t tell you anything about what we do. So let’s start there.

Community Service Boards are state-designated agencies that provide behavioral health services – treatment, support and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. These types of disorders, especially mental illness and substance use, are called behavioral health conditions because they can cause unusual behaviors in individuals who have them.

At the state government level in Georgia, services for individuals with mental illness and substance abuse and for individuals with disabilities are overseen by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), an agency whose name, thankfully, describes its focus exactly.

DBHDD coordinates appropriations from the state legislature and federal government (for example, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA) to fund behavioral health and disability treatment services across Georgia. The agency also establishes policy that governs the operations of CSBs and the use of state and federal funds.

CSBs like Highland Rivers Health are the front-line of providing behavioral health and disability services in Georgia. Even if the term Community Service Board doesn’t describe exactly what we do, there is one word that is essential: community. CSBs operate in communities, where people live, work and raise families, providing crucial access to services for community members.

As you may know, Highland Rivers serves 12 counties in northwest Georgia. We operate community outpatient clinics in nine of those counties, as well as residential treatment programs, crisis units, peer programs, disability services and so much more, providing services that are close by and convenient for people living in our service area.

We also partner with hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), emergency departments and primary care providers across northwest Georgia to ensure behavioral health services are available as part of a comprehensive and coordinated community healthcare system.

But there are two other characteristics that distinguish Community Service Boards from other behavioral health and disability providers. First, CSBs are what the state calls Comprehensive Community Providers. That means CSBs provide a comprehensive set of 15 mental health and substance use treatment services, as well as crisis stabilization, intensive community-based services, peer services and more (collectively known as “core” services). Highland Rivers provides all of these services, which is one reason we employ more than 600 professionals across our service area.

Second, and perhaps more important, CSBs are safety-net providers. According to DBHDD, safety-net providers exist to serve the most vulnerable members of our communities and provide critical access to these services – regardless of ability to pay. In other words, CSBs provide services to individuals who, if we did not exist, would not have access to mental health, substance use or disability services. This is one of the most important aspects of who we are, what we do and why we are a critical part of the communities we serve.

Like the state’s broader healthcare system, the behavioral health and disability services system in Georgia is a network of both public and private providers that offer varying levels and types of services. But underlying this system are the state’s Community Services Boards, which help ensure every Georgian has access to critical mental health, substance use and disability treatment and recovery services.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Bartow, Cherokee, Floyd, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk and Whitfield counties.