Employees, legislators speak out for Southwestern - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Employees, legislators speak out for Southwestern

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THOMASVILLE, GA (WALB) -

Thomasville community leaders are speaking out on behalf of a state mental health hospital set to close at the end of the year.

The state announced the closure of Southwestern State Hospital, and the loss of more than 600 jobs, about two weeks ago.

Longtime physicians at the hospital say the consequences will be disastrous. 

Southwestern State employees and local lawmakers shared the same reaction to the news of the closing.

"Shocked. I felt like it was a disaster. Primarily for the patients," said Longtime Psychiatric Physician at the hospital Dr. Bill Slaughter.

"I was shocked like most of the community. We've been aware there has been trouble and talk of the closing of Southwestern, but it caught me totally by surprise," said State Representative Darlene Taylor.

State Commissioner Frank Berry addressed the more than 600 hospital employees in Thomasville last month saying it's not financially feasible to keep the doors open.

"The cost to keep it open is a big issue. When you have half of the patient base gone, how do you continue to support it. We're looking at options at what we can do," said Taylor.

"It is quite a blow. That is $35 million dollars in wages that are paid into our community annually, but it does impact not only Thomasville and Thomas County, but the entire surrounding area," said Thomas County Chamber President Don Sims.

"The closure of Southwestern will adversely impact the quality of care patients get," said Slaughter.

Slaughter says Southwestern is a safety net for not just Thomasville, but all of south Georgia.

"You can imagine a sheriff from Grady County having to transport somebody to Atlanta or Columbus rather than Thomasville."

And Taylor says she is reaching out to the Department of Labor to help those who will soon be out of work.

"I want a program. I want to know how they will be taken care of. What kind of packages? What can we do to help these folks? We can not let this happen to our community."

Sims says his office is already making significant efforts to find replacement jobs as well as a future use for the 64-acre facility.

The decision the close the hospital follows a new state mandate to treat developmentally disabled patients in smaller community based settings.

 

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