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Sunday October 2nd, 2022 8:43PM

Georgia's mental hospitals short on money and staff

By The Associated Press
<p>Georgia's state psychiatric hospitals operate under a chronic deficit that runs into millions of dollars and contributes to chronic staff shortages, a state official says.</p><p>The institutions have operated at an average annual budget deficit of $11 million for eight years, Gwen Skinner, director of the state's mental health division, told members of a mental health commission Tuesday.</p><p>"If you have to offset a deficit, you slow down your hiring or don't fill positions," Skinner said.</p><p>At the seven state-run hospitals, Skinner said, 39 percent of registered nurses' positions were vacant in September, with an annual turnover figure of almost one in three.</p><p>"This is a critical, critical issue for us," she told the commission, which was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.</p><p>During Tuesday's meeting at Central State Hospital, Georgia's oldest mental institution, Skinner said the occupancy rates in state hospital adult psychiatric units have typically been more than 100 percent since March 2005. The desired figure is 85 percent, she said.</p><p>Adult mental health patients in Georgia typically stay for six days, with more than one-third discharged in less than 72 hours. Patients at Georgia's mental hospitals are twice as likely to return within 30 days of discharge as the national average.</p><p>The state's figures drew sharp questions from commission members.</p><p>"How good is the care we're providing?" asked Dr. Charles Nemeroff, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.</p><p>"This commission came together because of a crisis. It could be a heckuva lot better than what it is now."</p><p>Nemeroff said after the hearing, "You can't really provide adequate care for people with a major psychiatric illness in three or four days in a hospital."</p><p>The meeting also targeted the lack of mental health services available for discharged patients.</p><p>Angela Hicks-Hill, executive director of a community service board in the Milledgeville region, told the panel that funding problems have forced her agency to reduce mental health services, including those for children.</p><p>"Three years ago, we had programs in four of six counties," she said. "Now we are in just two (counties)."</p><p>Mental health advocates repeated their call for an independent review of hospital deaths and allegations of abuse, and for an ombudsman's office.</p><p>Perdue established the commission after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a series of stories on questionable deaths at the state's mental hospitals.</p><p>___</p><p>HASH(0x2dec620)</p>
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