New approach to handling mental health issues working? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

New approach to handling mental health issues working?

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THOMAS COUNTY, GA (WALB) -

Three months into the state's new way of dealing with south Georgians with mental health issues and officials say progress is evident.

When the gate at Southwestern State Hospital shut for good in December 600 employees were left with out jobs.

"They've given their life, they worked, they've helped the mentally ill and now the facility is closed that's sad," said executive director of Georgia Pines Bob Jones.

He says it's unfortunate that jobs we're lost in pursuit of better helping those in need, but some were able to continue helping people with mental health issues at his location.

"We've got several programs so as a total we've brought over about 71," said Jones.

State Commissioner Frank Berry says the decision to close the hospital was not a hasty one. He says it was part of a well- thought out plan to help mental health patients through community behavioral health crisis centers instead of placing them in a hospital.

"We traveled and heard from many people, the frustration level of having to transport the individuals, was causing many great concern," said Berry.

The federal government also said the state had too many people in mental health hospitals and pushed for an overhaul to the system. Jones says more people are actually being helped through the crisis centers.

"Actually there are more beds available now then there were when the hospital was operational," said Jones. Georgia Pines is also partnering with law enforcement and emergency rooms to handle crisis situations.

Each patrol car will soon come with cards that officers will keep on the dash, the card gives the deputy/officer step by step direction on what to do in case of a crisis.

They admit it's still a work in progress but progress towards helping more people in need across South Georgia.

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