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Group forming to serve mental health needs
Behavioral Health committee
Nina Kennedy, clinical director of Gateway Behavioral Health, talks with a group of behavioral health professionals Aug. 23 about the needs of their local community and to form the Regional Community Collaborative for Behavioral Health for Long, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties. - photo by Tiffany King

A group of behavioral health professionals met in Hinesville recently in an effort to better understand and serve the region.

Mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse workers gathered Aug. 23 at the Department of Family and Child Services. They plan to form the Regional Community Collaborative for Behavioral Health Resources for Long, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties.

The initial meeting, facilitated by Nina Kennedy, clinical director of Gateway Behavioral Health, and Jose Lopez of the state department of behavioral health, focused on gathering feedback on what attendees feel are pressing issues in their community.

“Instead of doing all that taking and sharing data,” Lopez said, “we’re going to discuss ideas, resources and how we can put things in place to address whatever issues this community comes up with, the most common issues in the region and across the state.”

Kennedy called the committee a “task force” that will pull together resources to “accomplish realistic goals for our community.”

The initiative started in January, with a group formed for Chatham and another for Glynn, Camden and McIntosh counties. Liberty, Long, Bryan and Effingham counties will make up the central collaborative.

At the Hinesville meeting, attendees wrote down the top five needs in the region and discussed their thoughts.

Among the concerns were a lack of crisis intervention, public transportation, the need for more outreach programs for parents, job placement, reducing the stigma of those who suffer from mental health issues or disabilities, mental healthcare for veterans and mental health training for first responders.

Lisa Vaughn, parent mentor for the Liberty County School System, said the Hinesville Fire Department is working with the school system to help the department identify residents who may have a developmental disability so firefighters will know how to respond in case of emergency.

Laura Lane Maia, who works with families in suicide prevention and crisis, shared her experience with first responders who did not know what to do in situations when someone tried to commit suicide and the stigma associated with suicide. Maia, whose daughter committed suicide, now works to raise awareness.

The committee identified which concerns to work on action plans for, and plans were divided into two categories—mental health and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Plans for IDD included: communicating about resources, family education, behavioral integration in the IDD population for adults and youth, job placement and skills training, and respite care for families.

For mental health, attendees suggested projects to provide family support, employment, consistent psychiatric services and suicide awareness.

Another list was then created of people and organizations who should belong to the collaborative, such as the United Way of the Coastal Empire, Hinesville Housing Authority, Coastal Regional Commission, county commissioners and members of the law enforcement community.

Also at the meeting in Hinesville, Kennedy reviewed what other groups developed.

One of the priorities for the southern collaborative was providing transportation for people to get resources and attend appointments. Kennedy said she met with Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey and discussed that committee’s needs, one of which was transportation. Harvey said a plan to create a public transportation system in Brunswick failed because of a lack of community buy-in.

Kennedy said the collaborative then developed something on a smaller scale. She said the plan is getting community support and will likely be in the city’s next budget.

The Chatham collaborative held a housing symposium earlier this year that focused on affordable housing and creating safe neighborhoods. There also was the First Annual Chatham County Mental Health Symposium that brought together county commissioners, local leaders and representatives from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities in Atlanta.

At the next meeting, to be scheduled, the collaborative will go into more detail about projects and assign people to lead those tasks.                

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