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New team of specialists boosting expertise in Georgia state hospitals

By Tom Wilson, DBHDD Press Secretary, with special material for NAMI Augusta

Published in the December 2009 NAMI Augusta Azalea newsletter

The state agency in charge of Georgia's psychiatric hospitals announced on October 20, 2009, that it is bringing in more than two dozen clinicians, experts, and trainers to dramatically boost the expertise available in those facilities.

DBHDD, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, is contracting with a team of experts to provide specialized skills, improve professional standards of care, and standardize procedures across all seven hospitals. The first experts were deployed at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville.

"As I've toured each of our state hospitals, it's become clear that we're not only understaffed, but that we lack the depth of expertise that should be present in every facility," said DBHDD Commissioner Frank Shelp, M.D., M.P.H. "Although we're building that expertise internally, it would take us a year or more to get to what we consider an adequate level. That's why we're bringing in this team of clinicians and trainers to help make immediate improvements while we solidify our own expertise."

The team of experts will include psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and specialists in critical fields such as suicide prevention, choking and aspiration, patient-on-patient assaults, discharge planning, treatment, and rehabilitation. DBHDD has recruited a project manager to lead the team who has experience working with state mental health systems to address issues surrounding the civil rights of patients in institutional care. The team's immediate task will be implementing training and procedures that will improve the safety of hospital consumers.

"During the first hundred days of DBHDD's existence, we've focused on getting the right people, processes, and technology in place," said Commissioner Shelp. "This team of experts will make an immediate difference in all three of those areas."

Commissioner Shelp has appointed Dr. Nirbhay Singh to be manager of the team. Before retiring from formal academia in 2002, Dr. Singh was a tenured Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Clinical Psychology at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and Director of the Commonwealth Institute for Child and Family Studies in Richmond, Virginia.

Since 1989, Dr. Singh has been an expert consultant in psychology, psychopharmacology, protection from harm, and mental health both with the U.S. Department of Justice and with several states on CRIPA issues. He brings connections with a network of specialists, trainers, and clinicians to immediately bring national-level expertise to Georgia's state hospital system.

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