County: Mental illness strains resources

November 17, 2017 GMT

Floyd County commissioners want the Georgia General Assembly to make addressing mental health needs in local communities a priority next year.

The state legislative body is slated to start its annual 40-day session Jan. 8.

“Looking at our jail — trying to provide care for these folks there is not the ideal situation,” Commissioner Allison Watters said during a meeting this week with lawmakers.

The lack of options also sends some residents with a drug dependency or behavioral problem to the Floyd Medical Center emergency room, in search of treatment or medication.

“The jail and the ER, that’s where they go,” Watters noted.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said several initiatives underway, including Medicaid waivers, are expected to provide some relief.

If the federal government grants the waivers, funding would be available for programs targeting opioid addiction and mental illness in Georgia. Hufstetler said South Carolina has a successful tele-psychiatry program that identifies those individuals and gets them help.

“The state is trying to provide these people with structure, so they don’t go to the ER,” he said.

All three of the Floyd County legislative delegates are serving on study committees that are examining potential solutions.

Hufstetler and Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, co-chair the joint Transparency and Open Access in Government Committee. The group, scheduled to hold its fourth meeting today, wants to propose a central database with information from all state agencies providing services.

“We’ll be able to do an analysis on the back end to see what to target and how,” Hufstetler said. “There are all these efforts out there, but they’re just not being coordinated.”

The meeting will be streamed live at 3 p.m. on the General Assembly’s website.

Hufstetler also sits on Georgia’s Health Care Reform Task Force, which is including mental health in its review. Tele-medicine is on the table, but internet service is too slow in many areas of the state.

That’s also one of the findings of the House Rural Development Council, where Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, is serving. He said he expects to see legislation to encourage broadband expansion.

“That technology is as necessary as phone lines were in the past,” Lumsden said. “It’s the new workhorse.”

The number of inmates in the Floyd County jail with mental health problems has increased dramatically since the state closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in 2011.

Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell said about 100 at any given time are on psychotropic medications.

Voters this month approved a special purpose, local option sales tax package that contains $5.2 million for a new medical facility at the jail, with a separate wing to house mental health patients.