THOMAS CO., GA (WALB) - Mental Health is taking center stage in Thomasville.
State House representatives are visiting South Georgia on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the needs in the area.
Many local leaders feel this has become an important topic since the closure of Southwestern State Hospital back in 2013.
On Wednesday, the group met at Southern Regional Technical College in Thomasville.
One major thing representatives from the Department of Behavioral Health talked about was getting people out of state hospitals and back into community-based services. There are still 209 patients at state hospitals in Georgia.
"You can't just close a hospital and figure it out," said Judy Fitzgerald, Commissioner of Department of Behavior Health and Development Disabilities.
It's been almost five years since Southwestern State Hospital closed its doors in Thomasville, but state and local leaders said the community still feels the effects of that decision every day.
Since 2013, the state has opened several crisis centers, three being in Region 4 in Thomasville, Albany and Valdosta.
Fitzgerald said the state puts $18 million annually into those centers to expand community-based services.
Some representatives asked on Wednesday if three centers were enough?
"Can we do something about it? Are more beds needed?" asked Darlene Taylor.
"How do we get the people to the right level of care? And maybe it's a bed, but maybe we put them in one of the other resources available in region 4," said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said these crisis centers are not intended to be long term facilities, but they are in place to have patients as close to home as possible.
"Those individuals who have transitioned back into the community cannot be put back into a state hospital, that's written into the settlement agreement," explained Fitzgerald.
Also at the meeting were local law enforcement leaders from the area.
Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell told the representatives that a lot of the time his deputies and officers are having to deal with crisis situations out in the community.
Powell said sometimes his staff even has to transport those folks to places as far as Savannah and Columbus on a weekly basis.
"Your local people are picking up the tab and are picking up the line share of the cost," said Powell.
Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL), provides free and confidential access to DBHDD services statewide.
GCAL assists individuals, families, and care-givers with crisis intervention, assessment, and referral to routine, urgent, and emergent mental health, substance use, and developmental disability services, free of charge.
It is able to access outpatient, mobile crisis, crisis stabilization, or admission to inpatient facilities.
GCAL clinicians and care consultants work 24/7 to facilitate access to services at the right level as quickly as possible and as close to home as possible.
The GCAL number is 1-800-715-4225.
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