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Youth who need inpatient mental health care face difficulties

Moultrie Observer - 5/21/2024

May 21—MOULTRIE — Local youth can be left in a "holding pattern" when suffering a mental health crisis.

Mental health professionals say a lack of in-patient mental health care for youth makes it hard to treat young people in a crisis.

Julio Ginel, a mental health professional with Georgia Pines and a co-responder with the Moultrie Police Department, said that when he encounters a teen or child in crisis, his job is to evaluate and see if they needed a higher level of care.

"Finding a higher level of care is very difficult," he said. "That's been a big concern of mine. There are some resources within Colquitt County but when it comes to crisis, there's really only one, which would be CRMC."

Ginel said a child or teen would go to Colquitt Regional Medical Center where they would remain in a "holding pattern" until another place for them to go could be found that would provide them with the inpatient mental health care that they needed.

"Services are very limited in Georgia as a whole," he said and added that the closest inpatient facilities for youth to Colquitt County are in Donaldsonville and Savannah. Vashti, located in Thomasville, just opened up for children ages 8 to 14 only.

The Vashti Center is a faith-based facility that offers both inpatient and outpatient services to youth and their families.

"In addition, to that, if it's a child that has a developmental disability, that's even harder because that's a specialization not everyone has or not every provider can give," he said.

Basically, a child that is on the autism spectrum, Ginel said, is even harder to place in a facility.

R.J. Hurn, CEO of Georgia Pines, said that transportation for a teen that was in crisis and needed that type of stay is hard to find in this area, as well.

Lt. Tonero Bender of the Moultrie Police Department said, "So what that creates on our side is that they'll sit at the hospital until they find somewhere to go. Remember, he said it's not gonna be close. So, obviously, it's not up to the police department to do the transport. Now, you're tying up someone from the sheriff's office to transport that person two, three hours, wherever that person needs to go."

Ginel said that, as it's difficult to place a child, they will remain in the emergency room, taking up a bed, for what could be a very long time.

"And that means not only is the teen there, but the parent, which means the parent is also impacted, They will be there until a place is found," he added.

Bender said that it could be anywhere between 24 to 48 hours wait time.

Hurn said that getting a doctor to accept the client is one of the things that they have to wait on, along with finding a bed. He also said that the officers can't take them anywhere until there's an agreement to at least evaluate the patient.

When it comes to outpatient services for teens and children, there are local resources available including a mental health center, said Hurn, which is located on Second Avenue, across from the Moultrie Police Department. The center provides individual, family and group therapy.

"There are also some private practices around here, as well," he said.

Ginel said that if an individual does not need inpatient services, his job is to provide resources for outpatient services.

One of the resources he tells the teen or child's parent about is NAMI — the Moultrie chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness — because it's a good resource for people who are not familiar with mental health or the different diagnoses.

"They have a lot of free options and they have options in Spanish. It's been something that I've utilized quite often as a gateway to educating a parent," Ginel said.

Hurn added that NAMI did a great job of referring the teens out to resources that were appropriate for them.

"Greenleaf Behavioral Health Hospital, in Valdosta, would be the place for a teen that is experiencing substance abuse," said Ginel.

He also said that there were some grassroots programs that could assist on an outpatient basis but in a crisis situation, his referral would be to the Greenleaf Hospital for inpatient substance abuse help.

Hurn said that another resource was the Georgia Apex Program, which is in several schools in Colquitt County, and it puts a therapist in the school. He said the co-responder team can contact the Apex coordinator to see if the teen or child was involved in the Apex Program. If not, they could refer them to the service.

"We partner with the Department of Behavioral Health to provide that service. We've served several hundred kids, easily, in Colquitt County doing outpatient services," Hurn said.

"From the police department's standpoint, we're thankful to have this collaboration with Georgia Pines. The benefit has pretty much demonstrated itself over the past couple of years since we've had Julio onboard and since we've been running the co-responder program," said Bender.

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