Two Forsyth County officials are supporting a bipartisan push to improve mental health outcomes in the state.
On Wednesday, Jan. 26, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, introduced House Bill 1013, which his office described as “a comprehensive bill to reform Georgia’s mental health care delivery system and improve client outcomes.”
“Mental health issues touch almost every family in this state,” said Speaker David Ralston. “For much too long, our mental health care delivery system has been inadequate. The accessibility and availability of treatment has been woefully limited. For a state that is rated number one in the nation in which to do business, this is not acceptable.”
“There is no issue more important to me this session,” Speaker Ralston continued. “Georgia is a great state. Passage of this landmark bill will mean we are also a good state.”
The bill has bipartisan support –including from Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, and Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon – and will be carried by co-sponsors Rep. Todd Jones, R-Cumming, and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur.
“Mental health service delivery is critical to the health and well-being of a growing, thriving state,” Jones said in the statement. “While this is a complex issue, this bill speaks to the commitment of legislators and other stakeholders to work together for the common good.”
“I am excited to work on a comprehensive bill of reform for Georgia families,” Oliver said. “Too many Georgians suffer from mental illness, which can be deadly and cannot find treatment. We need to improve ways to help people find treatment.”
According to the release, the bill “ensures mental health parity for providers and clients, strengthens workforce development initiatives, expands transparency and accountability for consumers and enhances resources and tools for frontline responders and communities.”
House Bill 1013 incorporates the recommendations of a task force formed in 2019 that included mental health, substance abuse and criminal justice experts.
Forsyth County Manager Kevin Tanner, a former member of the Georgia House who represented portions of Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties, was co-chair of the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission, which was tasked with developing solutions to the funding, workforce, access and insurance issues that hamper mental health and substance abuse services in Georgia.
“This bill is a giant leap forward and will fill many of the gaps we have in our mental health system,” Tanner said. “It will provide hope and support for families who have waited for too long.”
Funding will be a key component of the General Assembly’s push to improve mental health and substance abuse services.
Lawmakers voted last spring to add $56 million to this year’s state budget for mental health, and more is on the way.
The statistics are alarming, particularly since the coronavirus pandemic struck Georgia in March 2020.
Georgia’s mental health crisis hotline has experienced a 24% increase in calls, texts and chats since the pandemic began, while mental health screenings have soared by 426%, Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, told members of a House committee last month.
The state also saw a 36% increase in drug overdose deaths between April 2020 and last April, Fitzgerald said.
Dave Williams, of Capitol Beat News Service, contributed to this report.