Fulton County Responds on Mental Health Changes

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With additional repoting by Alice Gordon.

(APN) ATLANTA — Fulton County has responded to a previous report by Atlanta Progressive News concerning several changes made in recent months by Fulton County which have resulted in fewer clinics serving low-income residents who have no insurance or Medicaid.

APN’s original article was published on May 25, 2010. Fulton County sent a three page letter to APN responding to the article on May 27. APN reviewed the letter and prepared a series of additional questions which were submitted a few weeks ago. Fulton County sent APN a package by mail, containing various documents and a DVD, on July 09.

Originally, APN reported: “At least three local community health centers have stopped offering mental health services for working poor and homeless people and homeless people in Fulton County…”

Fulton County sought to clarify the status regarding the three clinics in question:

“South Central Mental Health Center (SCMHC) – relocated to the Neighborhood Union Health Center April 1, 2010. Clients will be able to receive enhanced services at Neighborhood Union,” Dr. Patrice Harris, Director of Fulton County Health Services, wrote on May 27.

“West Fulton – currently services continue at West – we plan to build a new ‘one stop shop’ facility nearby and current clients will be able to receive integrated services at this new location,” Harris wrote.

“South Fulton – currently services continue at South,” Harris wrote.

So, to review, one clinic literally closed and those patients received a discharge letter referring them to the Neighbhorhood Union. However, the other two clinics, while still open, have apparently stopped accepting referrals for new patients who are indigent and without health insurance or Medicaid. Therefore, while these two clinics may be servicing their existing indigent patients, they have stopped accepting new ones.

APN visited West Fulton and South Fulton to ensure they were still open and did find them open and operating to the general public.

Fulton County also sought to ensure APN readers that there is no decrease in services because the Neighborhood Union is now said to be servicing former patients from SCMHC, as well as potential new patients who may have sought services at the closed center.

However, APN found in its original investigation that the Georgia Crisis Line, which makes appointments for people seeking mental health services, was not offering Neighborhood Union as an option for any new patients seeking services. Three different people called the Crisis Line seeking options for low-income people without insurance or Medicaid, and were referred to either Grady Hospital or Northside Hospital.

“In regards to the Georgia Crisis Line, please note that we are aware of the issue and are working to correct the situation,” Harris wrote on July 09.

Fulton County also emphasized they posted a notice on Fulton County’s website in advance of the changes, and had an interview on FGTV. They also stated they attended affected Neighborhood Planning Unit meetings.

Fulton County sent APN a copy of the website notice, although APN was not able to find a copy of the notice on Fulton County’s website itself.

Fulton County also sent APN a copy of the FGTV interview on DVD. APN was not able to open the file on two different computers, however.

Fulton County also provided a copy of the discharge letter sent to SCMHC patients, and it matched the previous copy of a letter provided to an anonymous patient obtained by APN.

In addition, Fulton County also outlined the upcoming changes in the works as part of the County’s so-called streamlining of services.

“Renovation of the North Annex facility that will be the next one stop shop to be brought on-line for Fulton County. It is anticipated that service delivery will begin in July of 2010,” Harris wrote on May 27. The North Annex facility is also referred to as the Roswell Road facility.

“Construction of the Adamsville Regional Health Center in 2011. This center, when completed, will be the third full “Regional One Stop Shop” serving the citizens of Fulton County,” Harris wrote. This appears to be the one whose opening will accompany the closure of West Fulton.

“These three facilities [North Annex, Adamsville, and Neighborhood Union] will offer the following services: Behavioral Health Services including SA [substance abuse], Primary Care Services, Public Health Services, WIC services, Workforce Development Services, Nutrition Services,” Harris wrote.

Despite the closure of SMCHC, the planned closure of West Fulton, and the termination of new referrals at West Fulton and South Fulton for indigent patients, Fulton County insists it continues to be committed to providing mental health services to people of all income groups.

“Our policy message continues to be ‘Fulton County will continue to ensure that clients’ needs are met regardless of their ability to pay,'” Harris wrote.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at alice@atlantaprogressivenews.com. Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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