By Jason A. Smith
As a result of a recent study conducted at the urging of Gov. Sonny Perdue, a key agency in Georgia is being reorganized in an effort to better meet the needs of people suffering from mental illnesses.
The governor has called for the creation of a Department of Behavioral Health, which will administer mental-health and addictive-disease programs currently housed in the Department of Human Resources (DHR).
The DHR was created more than three decades ago under then-governor, Jimmy Carter. Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Perdue, said the need for such changes has been increasingly evident in the department since that time. "The department has 19,000 employees," Brantley said. "The governor wanted to see if improvements could be made to the [agency]."
One of the changes Perdue has mandated is the separation of programs in the DHR's public-health section, into their own Department of Community Health. According to Brantley, the move "just makes more sense" from a functional perspective for the state. "It allows the programs within the department of health to focus on preventative care, as well as providing services that are singularly focused on health care."
Brantley added that the measure will help to ensure mental-health patients are given proper consideration, as it relates to corrections, juvenile justice and other areas. "We're making sure we provide the correct services to people who need help from more than one agency," he said. "The governor believes the department is the next logical step to continue that progress. Every case can't be treated the same. Citizens have individualized needs. If we handle these cases the right way the first time around, we might break the cycle of a strain on our resources."
Perdue expressed confidence in his plan as part of a written statement. He said the restructuring effort "puts in place a framework for a more efficient, effective delivery of ... critical services."
Plans have also been set in motion in Henry County to address the needs of the mentally-ill population in the area. In June, Probate Judge Kelley Powell announced her intention to work toward creating a mental-health court, which will focus on people who are arrested due to circumstances exacerbated by schizophrenia or other illnesses.
Powell said such a court would be "the right thing to do," for the benefit of those individuals. "They don't need to be in jail," the judge said in June. "They need to be out, getting treatment."
Other changes coming to the state include the creation of a Department of Human Services, which will encompass the divisions devoted to developmental disabilities, aging, child support and the Division of Family and Children Services.
The governor's proposal calls for legislation to be introduced when the General Assembly convenes in January. The new agencies would take effect July 1, 2009.