Veterans rally at roundtable
by Clay Neely - email@example.com
“Corporate greed is costing Coweta County citizens money and loss of local health care,” declared Malcolm Jackson, a military veterans leader who is pushing for a mental health facility proposed for Newnan.
Jackson, co-chair of the Coweta Commission on Veteran's Affairs, the group that has held several muster events in Coweta in recent years, was one of many who spoke at a roundtable discussion on support of the behavioral hospital proposed for the former Piedmont Newnan/Coweta General facilities on Hospital Road.
The meeting, held at the Coweta School System’s Central Educational Center in Newnan, discussed what the behavioral health center would mean for not only local veterans but for their families and the community in general.
Those in attendance included members and leaders of veterans groups from around the state, along with local political leaders and members of law enforcement and concerned citizens.
Also in attendance was Stacy York, vice president of U.S. Healthvest, who spoke on behalf of the behavioral hospital recently denied a Certificate of Need by the Ga. Department of Community Health.
With focus placed on the urgent need for psychiatric care of veterans, the discussion was filled with horror stories involving returning soldiers who aren’t finding the specialized help they need.
“I’ve seen a lot of folks with PTSD,” said Billy Robbins, veterans benefits manager for the Newnan office of the Ga. Department of Veterans Service. “Our clinic here has 5,000 patients. If someone wants to go to group therapy, they have to go to Decatur.”
“There’s a lot of need in this county,” said Robbins. “In this combined area with Troup, Fayette, and Heard, we have almost 31,000 veterans. Soldiers visit our office and suddenly everything comes out. The wife has no idea what’s been going on with them for the last 40 years.”
“I ask them, ‘What’s the chance of you having PTSD?’ and they ask me, ‘What’s PTSD?’ They just don’t know. But once you open that awareness, it’s a floodgate and now I have nowhere to send them,” said Robbins. “I’ve essentially opened a can of worms. We need a facility in this area.”
“You have an opportunity here to start fresh,” said Piper Hill, Healing 4 Heroes founder and retired Army captain. “It’s no secret Decatur has some serious issues. Here, you have the ability to wipe the slate clean and make sure it’s done right.”
Hill recalled the story of a local veteran who was taken off his psych medication by the VA hospital in Decatur and wound up in a bar, self-medicating.
“He was tased by police until one officer recognized him and realized what was happening. Another instance, he woke to find himself sleeping in a blackberry bush with no recollection. That’s when his wife said, ‘I’ve had enough. I’m taking him to Dublin to get him the help he needs.’ It’s often the wives who will attest to the true need,” said Hill.
Along with the personal issues veterans and their families are currently facing, Coweta area law enforcement leaders also cited the need for a behavioral facility based on the amount of money handling troubled individuals is costing citizens — not only in taxes but in loss of manpower.
“By law, any law enforcement agency can take a person to a medical receiving unit to be evaluated. If the determination is made that they need to be involuntarily committed, the nearest facility for Coweta is in Columbus,” said Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager. “Since it’s our responsibility to transport that person, they’ve sent us all over the state. Once a deputy arrives in Columbus, he or she is then held until the hospital can make a determination about what they will do with the patient. These are hours that the county is without our deputies,” said Yeager.
Also speaking to the group was State Representative David Stover, R-Palmetto, who is pushing a bill in the Georgia House to limit the CON process.
“We had a hearing on the bill (HB 853) Monday and the Georgia Hospital Association showed up with all their lobbyists against the bill. The bill adds two words to the current law,” said Stover. “I added the words ‘and private’ to the bill, which means state facilities and private facilities would not have to have a Certificate of Need.”
Stover believes the behavioral hospital is being denied because of the current monopoly the facility would deny.
“It’s the Georgia Hospital Association blocking this. They do not want anyone to touch the CON policy and they argue that we don’t need a mental health facility here,” said Stover.
Strong opposition to the behavioral hospital’s CON application was made by Tanner Health System.
“If Tanner was really interested in helping this community, they would have located here. Instead, they went within one mile of another service district, near the Douglas County border,” said local attorney Robert Hancock. “From a strategic standpoint, they really don’t give a damn about us.”
“In 2007, a Certificate of Need was handed out for a mental health facility (Seniorcare) to what was called the most under-served area in the state of Georgia,” said Stover. “That area was Coweta County. For the most under-served area in the state of Georgia, why can’t we receive a CON?”
When asked what could be done to support the hospital at this point, York recommend writing letters in regards to the proposed House bill.
“Our position is that we want this bill passed so we can open a hospital,” said York. “Our management team has over 200 years of experience of operating hospitals. We would not have picked Newnan if we didn’t feel that there was enough need in order for us to be successful.”
“It sounded like the CON was denied by the input statements from the competing operations in the area,” said Leigh Blood, representing the American Legion.
Blood said, documentation should reflect “the exorbitant inefficiencies of sucking up police resources and time and turning that into dollar figures of putting the public at risk due to the police forces doing taxi service between here and Columbus and the cost involved that would be mitigated significantly if we had this facility here rather than constantly shuttling people back and forth to Columbus.”
“All this is just time — this is just a maze,” said Berkowitz. “If you call the crisis intervention hotline or call the VA, you go through six different phone numbers before you get to the suicide number. They say in the phone protocol, “If you’re suicidal, call this ... Are you kidding me?”
“I’m very concerned with the lack of treatment from the VA when our returning vets are suffering from PTSD,” said Berkowitz. “If 30 to 40 percent of our veterans are suffering from PTSD, what local facilities do we have that can treat these individuals?”