Fulton County expects to serve more behavioral health patients in 2018

Fulton County is expanding its mental health services, including at the Adamsville Regional Health Center in Atlanta. (CASEY SYKES/AJC FILE PHOTO)

Fulton County is expanding its mental health services, including at the Adamsville Regional Health Center in Atlanta. (CASEY SYKES/AJC FILE PHOTO)

Beginning next week, Fulton County will outsource mental health and other services in the hopes of reaching more people in the county.

On its own, the county served about 1,500 people who needed mental health care, including help with addictions, therapy or diagnosis. By contracting with River Edge Behavioral Health and Chris 180 to provide those services at Fulton facilities, the county hopes to more than double its reach, and serve 4,000 patients annually.

But even with the expansion, the county can only help so much, and there are still thousands of people who aren’t getting access to needed mental health services. County estimates indicate there are about 34,000 uninsured residents who could use its services. Some are able to access services at state-funded community organizations and places like Grady Memorial Hospital, said Dick Anderson, the Fulton County manager.

Starting Tuesday , residents of all ages will be able to access care at the Adamsville and Oak Hill regional health centers and the North Fulton Service Center. The Center for Health and Rehabilitation will treat only adults. Adult-only services will also be expanded to the South Fulton Service Center in April.

River Edge Behavioral Health, which will provide the services to adults, will partner with local hospitals and other organizations. It is expected to serve 3,000 people on a $4 million contract. Chris 180 will serve 1,000 children and young adults for $2 million. The services will include school-based therapy services and an adolescent substance abuse program. Both providers will focus on at-risk groups, like the homeless population or those leaving jail, and provide both group and individual therapy. Anderson said he hopes the services will be more pre-emptive and less reactive.

“This new model was a necessity, not an option,” Anderson said. “We want to tighten up points where people fall through the cracks.”

LaTrina Foster, director of behavioral health and developmental disabilities for the county, said earlier this year that the change helps Fulton get more for of its money. The county spends about $3,200 per person to provide services, while outside agencies spend more like $1,200 per person.

The change will also allow patients to access care more quickly, and will help ensure more people with mental health diagnoses are able to maintain their jobs and lives, Foster said. The changes affect people who come to the county for help dealing with issues like depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts or other mental health concerns.

“The end goal is to make sure people with mental health needs have them addressed and are able to live independent lives,” she said.

The move also better aligns Fulton with the state system, and it will partner with the state to track patients and their treatment across a range of providers. Anderson said in the future, the county hopes to work more closely with the state to provide services to a greater number of people.

Anderson said with the state coordination and more connections to people exiting the jail, the new plan could be “high impact.”

“It’s one of the most important things that we’ll do in 2018,” Anderson said. “It’s multifaceted and under appreciated.”

When county leaders first looked into the behavioral health program, more than a year and a half ago, they were “underwhelmed with the impact” they were making, Fulton Chief Strategy Officer Anna Roach said at the time. Commissioners agreed, voting 5-1 in favor of the change.

Roach said there were frequently unfilled vacancies in the county department responsible for providing care, including for psychiatrists, who were hard to keep on staff due to the county’s relatively low pay rate.

When commissioners first decided to move forward with the plan, there were 57 employees in the department. By December, there were 44 people left in the department whose jobs would be affected by the move. Many of those workers found jobs with the contractors, said Jessica Corbitt, a Fulton spokesperson. Fourteen people accepted other positions with the county, while three may be laid off. Others retired or found other jobs.


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In other Fulton County news:

In a presentation to Fulton County commissioners Wednesday, the county manager and tax assessor promised full compliance with state law, more transparency and accountability in the process.