Behavioral Hospital

Population growth, needs addressed in appeal

by Clay Neely


Photo by Clay Neely

Commissioner Robert Blackburn and Col. David Sutherland testified at the appeal hearing on Wednesday.

Testimonies in the appeal for the proposed Newnan Behavioral Hospital continued Wednesday with an emphasis placed on facing the continuing growth of the region along with the issues facing today’s veterans.

As co-founder and chairman of Easter Seals Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Services, Col. David Sutherland worked with the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the most recent Iraq war.

His organization focuses on the reintegration needs of returning servicemen and providing them with support in their local communities.

Sutherland spoke in favor of the proposed hospital based on the knowledge that the founders of HealthVest Newnan were involved in developing the nationally recognized Freedom Care Program – a program that is described on their website as “an innovative and successful program that provides treatment for active-duty military with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Over the span of three years, Col. Sutherland personally visited more than 200 communities to assess the need and availability of quality mental health care for veterans and was impressed with the approach the Freedom Care Program took.

“If you’ve personally met a veteran, you understand that the typical cookie cutter solutions simply do not work and Freedom Care understands that,” Sutherland said. “It removes the methodology and diagnosis – thereby becoming a very innovative and flexible approach that involves extensive outreach.”

Sutherland emphasized that there is a confusion and disconnect between the military and civil society that can lead to isolation.

“We have over 4,000 veterans in this area and there are unique needs for those who have served in combat,” Sutherland stated. “Their needs are evolving – not disappearing, and the issues are receding from the minds of the American people which leads to the isolation and lack of connection.”

According to Sutherland, his organization is seeing the same issues that were seen in returning Vietnam veterans – primarily the tendency to isolate themselves.

“We have vets who are committing suicide due to a refusal or lack of care in their area,” Sutherland said. “It’s impossible to ignore their specialized need for care. Because they are surrounded by trauma and not an isolated incident, it’s an entirely unique approach that is needed. We have a soldier who listened to another soldier burning to death in a vehicle, saying, ‘Sir, I’m burning.’ You just don’t forget that.”

Sutherland supports the hospital based on Freedom Care’s outreach – citing that their first line of defense is not psychotropic drugs, but an open line of communication.

“Not cookie cutter solutions that lead the inability to access the local VA,” Sutherland said.

Based on his experience, Sutherland believes that military members in the SSDR 4 area aren’t getting access to these services, citing the restrictions on the VA that limit their outreach.

“The number one need for veterans is access to quality mental health care,” Sutherland said. “There are glaring disparities between demand and providers – organizations get stuck on modalities that worked in 2007, but not anymore. Providers are not keeping pace with active force and people are slipping through the cracks.”

“With the proposed hospital, we have the ability to put resources where the needs are,” Sutherland said. “You will have veterans coming from Alabama to a facility that would be built in Newnan.”

Kathy Platt, advocate for Platt HMC Inc. who helped draft the Certificate of Need application for the Newnan Behavioral Hospital, discussed the adverse impact theory – based on population growth, and use rate increases.

According to Platt, usage rates increase when there are more geographically accessible services.

“If you were to assume there was no growth or demand, they would have to come from existing providers,” Platt said.

“Our theory on the need for a new facility is based on two factors: financial access and geographic access. We can’t control the former but we can control the geographic access,” she said. “Where there is greater access in communities like Carroll, there is greater utilization.”

The issue of access and distance continued to be driving factors for testimonials in support for Newnan Behavioral Hospital.

Longtime Newnan resident and consultant William Robert Hancock testified about his own personal interest in the proposed facility – stating that he shares his enthusiasm with many of his colleagues in the area.

For most of his life, Hancock claimed to be “blissfully unaware” for the need for immediate, local mental health treatment.

However, once Hancock’s son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it began a long journey for the family.

Hancock feels that the financial and emotional toll inflicted upon his family was magnified due to the lack of available local resources.

The distance the family was forced to travel in order to spend just a small amount of time with their son during his treatment was an unnecessary obstacle, according to Hancock.

Had a more local option been available, he feels the recovery process would have been expedited.

“When someone is in recovery, their need to feel connected with their family cannot be overstated,” Hancock said. “To be able to visit home, to see family, friends of even a pet – these are all so incredibly valuable to someone who is in crisis.”

Ultimately, Hancock is grateful for those who assisted his family during their crisis. However, it was an extremely taxing situation that drained his family simply due to the distance.

“As a result of this geographic hurdle, I couldn’t be there for my younger children, and it was hard on me from a professional standpoint – it consumed me and it was frustrating.”

Hancock believes hundreds of hours of his life were spent traveling to various hospitals around the Atlanta area.

“Most people today, even if they’re lucky to have a loving and supportive household, how do they take the time off to take them so far away? Even with financial stability, it was still incredibly hard for our family.”

Ultimately, Hancock hopes that the presence of the Newnan Behavioral Hospital will help alleviate the perceived stigma that has seemingly accompanied the discussion of mental health within the community.

“There are so many people in our community that have very similar stories but don’t want to share them because of that stigma,” Hancock said. “I respect that some families don’t want to stand up and acknowledge that it has affected their lives, but someone has to.”

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