Georgia, DOJ reach agreement on mental hospitals

ATLANTA – The state of Georgia and the U.S. Justice Department have reached an agreement in a lawsuit regarding the state's seven mental hospitals, including West Central Georgia Regional in Columbus.

The future of West Central Georgia has been in doubt. Three years ago Walker and state officials tried unsuccessfully to close the facility. Perdue this week said he wanted to reform the state's mental health delivery system. The details of that reform have not been announced.

Some Columbus-area lawmakers have expressed concern that some state hospitals, including West Central Georgia could be put in private operating hands.

"This could slow it down because the state has to put more money in it," said Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus. "Hopefully, it will slow it down and give us more time to study the situation."

Gov. Sonny Perdue said the agreement was a positive.

“We have worked aggressively to improve patient care at our state hospitals,” Perdue said in a news release. “This settlement was reached after a very cooperative process, and it confirms our strategy to improve the state’s mental health programs is headed in the right direction.”

The settlement was announced late Thursday.

Georgia has agreed to:

Improve incident reviews and investigations, mental health treatment planning, seclusion and restraint protocols, medical and nursing care, and discharge planning in all of its psychiatric hospitals.

Target and achieve improvements within the areas of choking and aspiration risk assessment and prevention, suicide risk assessment and prevention, patient-on-patient assault prevention, and more consistent emergency medical codes within the first year of the agreement.

DHR Commissioner B.J. Walker said the agreement highlights Georgia’s ongoing effort to transform the state’s mental health system.

““We were already addressing many of these quality issues at our existing hospitals," Walker said. "We have been working for some time to transition Georgia’s mental health system from one that overburdened its psychiatric hospitals to a system that offers comprehensive, community-based solutions as well as high-quality state facilities. The end result will be better, safer outcomes not only for our hospital patients, but for all Georgians with mental illness.”

The other six hospitals are: Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta, Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville, East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta and Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome.