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Helping Georgia Build a Healthier Mental Health Care System

  • Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has been a driving force in the field of mental health throughout her public service career.

    Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter has been a driving force in the field of mental health throughout her public service career. (Photo: The Carter Center)

"When I first began working in the mental health field in Georgia, there was such stigma attached to mental illness that no one wanted to be identified with the issue…I thought the most important thing I could do back then was talk about the issue publicly to try to bring it 'out of the closet'–make it an acceptable subject of conversation."

- Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter

Helping Georgia Build a Healthier Mental Health Care System

In 2007, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative series revealed at least 130 patients died under suspicious circumstances in Georgia's public psychiatric hospitals in the last decade.

After the lack of official or public response to the suspicious deaths, in 2008, the Carter Center's Mental Health Program began mobilizing the statewide mental health community as well as other stakeholder groups and initiated a partnership with the national Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law to help identify solutions to the crisis in the hospitals.

"Mrs. Carter and The Carter Center have maintained close ties with the Georgia mental health community because of Mrs. Carter's long-time mental health leadership in the state and our location in Atlanta," said Dr. Thom Bornemann, Mental Health Program Director.

"The Mental Health Program was in a unique position to serve as a mediator between the stakeholder groups and the state government because we were seen as an honest broker in the dispute and have long-standing, deep expertise on the challenges facing this state," said Dr. Bornemann.

The Center has devoted four (2009-2012) of its annual Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forums to the Georgia mental health crisis, leveraging local expertise and experience from a variety of perspectives (including faith-based communities, law enforcement, juvenile justice, and peer support systems) to develop tangible solutions for Georgia's mental health care system.

In October 2010, The Carter Center and its partners helped the state and community stakeholders reach a landmark settlement that included the creation of a robust community behavioral health system and other major changes that were desperately needed for a healthier Georgia. Learn more about the settlement >

In May 2011, The Carter Center released a draft comprehensive plan, "Building a Vision for Community Services for Children, Adolescents and Adults with Behavioral Health Disorders in Georgia," to address the need for all Georgians to have access to quality mental health and addiction services in their communities. The plan focuses especially on populations not included in the settlement such as children, adolescents, and older adults. In partnership with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and others, the preliminary Carter Center plan has been presented for public comment in all six regions across the state from 2011 to late 2012.

Today, the Center continues its involvement in this important issue and is completing a final report on tangible solutions that can be further implemented in the state.

News Articles on Georgia Crisis

May 20, 2013
DOJ Pact Shows Results, Challenges Remain
Published by Georgia Health News.
Following Georgia's 2010 agreement with the Department of Justice to deinstitutionalize much of the state's mental health programs, state officials shared updates about progress, challenges and lessons learned by the department at the Rosalynn Carter Georgia Mental Health Forum.

May 17, 2013
CDC Releases First Comprehensive Report on Children's Mental Health
Broadcast on WABE-FM.
At a forum hosted by The Carter Center, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden presented Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter with the first national comprehensive report of the mental health of children.

May 16, 2013
CDC: Mental Disorders Rising in Children
Published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to a May 17, 2013 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnosed mental health disorders are rising in children in the United States based on data from multiple national surveys and databases.

Feb. 7, 2013
Center Focuses on Mental Health Recovery Through Peer Support (Text and Audio)
Published by WABE-FM.
Prior to 2010, the state of Georgia treated many with a developmental disability or mental illness in state psychiatric hospitals. However, a federal lawsuit alleged the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision by unlawfully segregating the mentally ill and those with developmental disabilities in the state's psychiatric hospitals.

Feb. 7, 2013
State Officials and Advocates: Mental Health System Improving, Still Needs Work (Text and Audio)
Published by WABE-FM.
In response to recent mass shootings like the one in Newtown Connecticut, federal and state governments are examining mental health system improvements.

Nov. 30, 2012
Town Hall Addresses Mental Health
Published by the Albany Herald.
The Carter Center, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), and other state agencies and partners recently invited the public to participate in a town hall meeting in Albany to discuss the Carter Center's recommendations for improving community behavioral health services for children, adolescents and adults in the state.

Aug. 1, 2012
Atlanta Magazine Groundbreakers Finalists: Rosalynn Carter (PDF)
Published by Atlanta Magazineand reprinted with permission.
When the 2007 AJC series met a resounding local silence, Georgians were fortunate that the world's most prominent mental health advocate lives right here. Once again, as she has done for more than forty years, Rosalynn Carter fought for people with mental illnesses.

Aug. 1, 2012
Video: Atlanta Magazine Names Rosalynn Carter as a 2012 Groundbreaker
Atlanta Magazine names Rosalynn Carter as a Groundbreaker for protecting the rights of the mentally ill. The Groundbreakers represent works in progress: smart ideas that are under way but still have years - in at least one case, a couple of decades - to go before their potentials are fully realized.

June 4, 2012
Medicaid More Than Medical Aid (link no longer available) 
Published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
People like Francel Kendrick once spent most of their lives locked inside state hospitals. Today, because of Georgia's Medicaid program, Kendrick and thousands of disabled people like him can hold down a job and ride a city bus to their own homes after work.

May 23, 2012
Carter Hopeful About Medicaid Restructuring, but Concerned About Consultant's Report
Published by WABE-FM.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter is hopeful about the restructuring of the state's Medicaid program. But Carter expressed concern about a consultant's report that gives recommendations for the revamp, because of its possible impact on a mental health settlement reached with the U.S. Justice Department in 2010.

May 18, 2012
Carter Center Holds Mental Health Summit
Published nationally by the Associated Press.
The forum on Friday focused on the progress Georgia has made since the state reached an October 2010 settlement with the Justice Department over what critics saw as the unlawful segregation of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities in state-run hospitals.

Jan. 9, 2012
Some Mentally Disabled Lose Services
Published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Evette King recently sat in her south Atlanta home fretting about how she could avoid eviction without someone to watch, feed and bathe her severely autistic son so she can work and pay the bills.

Dec. 16, 2011
Carter Center Pushes Mental Health Improvements
Ppublished by the Associated Press.
The director of the mental health program at The Carter Center said Friday that Georgia can build on its progress on addressing the treatment needs of drug addicts and the mentally ill.

Dec. 16, 2011
Report: Improvements in Behavioral Health Care Needed for Children and Older Adults (Full text no longer available.)
Published by WABE-FM.
A preliminary report released by the Carter Center says a mental health settlement reached last year between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice is a good start. However, the report says more is needed to improve behavioral health care in the state.

Dec. 15, 2011
Fixing Ailing System Achievable
Rosalynn Carter op-ed published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
I became involved in mental health issues in 1966, campaigning for my husband for governor. A newspaper exposé had revealed terrible conditions in our large mental hospital, Central State in Milledgeville, and families of the patients there were frustrated and almost beyond hope that anything could be done to help their loved ones.

Nov. 11, 2011
Advocates: State's Mental Health System Improving, But Gaps Exist (link no longer available)
Published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Georgia has been rapidly rolling out community services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled this year, but advocates say much work is left to do to help children with behavioral challenges and to foster better coordination of care among medical doctors and mental health specialists for all patients.

Nov. 1, 2011
Cartersville Town Hall Meeting to Discuss Georgia Mental Health Care Report
Published by the Cartersville Daily Tribune News.
"The Cartersville town hall meeting on Nov. 3 is the first of three meetings The Carter Center, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and other stakeholders are holding across the state to foster local engagement in the transformation of Georgia's behavioral health system," said Dr. Thom Bornemann, director of Carter Center Mental Health Program.

Oct. 11, 2011
Report: Work Remains, But Georgia's Mental Health Overhaul Significant
Published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Georgia has made significant strides in moving the developmentally disabled and mentally ill out of state mental hospitals and into community settings -- despite notable gaps in care, a new report shows. No longer admitting the developmentally disabled into state institutions marks a "landmark accomplishment" for Georgia, according to the report by Elizabeth Jones, an independent reviewer appointed to track the progress of a five-year agreement between the state and U.S. Department of Justice.

Dec. 21, 2010
Perdue: Mental Health Pact a Big First Step
Published by Georgia Health News.
Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday that with its recent mental health agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, Georgia is "not crossing the finish line.'' Instead, "we are beginning a journey'' toward better services for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems, he said.

Dec. 21, 2010
Perdue, Advocates Laud Mental Health Agreement
Distributed by the Associated Press.
The very advocates who had for years been among outgoing Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue's fiercest critics were celebrating his role in a groundbreaking mental health settlement - and at President Jimmy Carter's Atlanta office, no less.

Oct. 21, 2010
WXIA Video: Carter Center Reacts to Mental Health Settlement
On Thursday, Oct. 21, Carter Center Mental Health Program Director Dr. Thom Bornemann was interviewed live in studio on WXIA-TV's "Evening News at 7 with Brenda Wood" as part of coverage of the Georgia mental health crisis settlement. The story was designated the number one news story of the day and Brenda Wood discussed the crisis as part of her "Final Word" segment.

Oct. 19, 2010
Feds Settle With Ga. Over Confinement of Disabled
Distributed by the Associated Press.
The Justice Department reached a settlement Tuesday with the state of Georgia in a long-running case targeting what critics call the unlawful segregation of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities in state-run psychiatric hospitals.

April 1, 2010
Pushing For Reform
Published by Georgia Trend magazine.
Georgia's public mental health system has consistently failed to protect those entrusted to its care. The Department of Justice is suing to take over, even as state officials ask for more time to fix what's broken.

Dec. 19, 2008
Privatizing Mental Health Hospitals: Don't Rush to Hand Off Care of Patients in Need
Thomas Bornemann op-ed published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Georgia continues to experience the effects of a mental health system that is tragically broken. Georgia Department of Human Resources' (DHR) has responded with some new proposals, one of which is privatizing and downsizing state mental hospitals.

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"Building a Vision for Community Services for Children, Adolescents and Adults with Behavioral Health Disorders in Georgia: Preliminary Report for Public Comment."

BornemannThe Carter Center's report on improving Georgia's mental health care system was presented via town hall meetings in three regions across the state to solicit community feedback. (Photo: P. Rohe/The Carter Center)

Read more:  Regional Town Hall Meetings Promote Vision for Revitalizing Georgia's Mental Health Care System >

Read the Preliminary Report (PDF)

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