MOULTRIE — State cuts to community mental health programs, which locally resulted in the loss of treatment centers in Colquitt and Grady counties, fly in the face of a recommendation last year by a governor’s mental health panel.

The Mental Health Service Delivery Commission established in 2007 by Gov. Sonny Perdue recommended in a 2008 report that additional spending is needed on community-based mental health services.

However, cuts to Georgia Pines Community Services, which provides mental health services in six Southwest Georgia counties, was $600,000 last year, according to the executive director of the agency. Projected cuts for the state’s current fiscal year are projected to be at least $200,000 and maybe as much as $300,000.

Georgia Pines cut office counseling services and distribution of medications to some patients as part of cost-cutting measures beginning Sept. 1, according to Executive Director Bob Jones. It will retain home-visit services in the county, but clients will have to travel to Pelham or Thomasville for counseling and other services.

Georgia Pines, which contracts with the state to provide services, also eliminated 15 administrative staff positions.

Albany resident Pace Burt, who owns the Main Street building used by Georgia Pines, offered to reduce the rent in order to keep a presence here but that amount was not enough to keep the office open, Jones said. The agency will use about one-quarter of the building to house employees who make home visits and other support services.

“It wasn’t just the issue of the rent, we were losing money in that Colquitt County operation,” Jones said. “There’s infrastructure. Even if someone was to give us the building rent free we would still be losing money on the rest of it.”

A “ball park” figure for the money lost at the Moultrie office was about $178,000 per year, he said. The value of services provided prior to closing the offices was between $500,000 and $750,000 per year.

Georgia Pines is looking to offer some counseling services, possibly at the Department of Family and Childrens Services or probation office if arrangements can be made with those agencies, Jones said.

On Sept. 21 Jones will make a report to Colquitt County Commission on the closing, including figures on the number of clients served and the drop in those seeking counseling sessions after the Moultrie office closed. Jones said Thursday that he is preparing those numbers and they are currently unavailable.

He also agreed with law enforcement and Colquitt Regional Medical Center personnel who said they will end up dealing with mentally ill Colquitt County residents who do not or are unable to get to Pelham or Thomasville for treatment.

“People needing the services we provide are not going to go away just because the services we provide are going away,” he said. “They’re not cured.

“We’re still doing everything we can to serve the people of Colquitt County. We’re doing the best we can to ensure we do as little harm as we can in this downsizing.”

Burt said he offered rent abatement for the building hoping that the agency could maintain services in the building and with the hope that the state could restore some of the funding next year.

“We were trying to do something to keep them there,” he said. “There’s been a lot of officials in Moultrie who wanted them to stay. We thought we would at least try to work with them on rent abatement. Moultrie’s growing and we wanted them to have those services.”

Burt said he is giving the agency a good deal on rent to keep them in Moultrie, even with the reduced capacity.

“We thought it was important to keep a presence, and hopefully they’ll keep Moultrie in mind.”

In addition to Colquitt and Grady counties, Georgia Pines also serves Decatur, Mitchell, Seminole and Thomas counties.

Prior to the state cuts to community mental health providers in the previous two budget years, a mental health advocacy group had given Georgia a grade of “D” for mental health services. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill also noted that in 2006 the state ranked 44th in per capita spending at $49.88.

A 2009 report card from the group also gave the state a “D” grade. Among urgent needs listed were strong leadership by the governor and Legislature, improved patient care and safety in hospitals, and increased access to community-based services.

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