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GRN Community Service Board gets new name, mission

CONYERS -- Following a federal court settlement last year against Georgia to address poor mental health care in the state, the local Community Service Board is unveiling a new name and new focus on care for local residents dealing with mental health, addiction and developmental disabilities.

View Point Health is the new name of the Gwinnett/Rockdale/Newton (GRN) Community Service Board, which will soon launch a logo and website reflecting the change. View Point Health CEO Frank Berry said the change points to months of strategic planning done by the public health agency to better address the needs of its clients.

"The emphasis has been put on customer care and service through all of the strategic planning we've been doing," Berry said. "I know that sounds good for the newspaper, but it's true. We are working on making customer service the No. 1 principle. We need to look at everyone we help and ask how can you go about treating the whole person."

View Point is one of 27 agencies created by the state of Georgia to provide a safety net of care for mental health, addiction and developmental disabilities. View Point was formed in 1976 and is governed by a 15-member board of directors. The members are appointed by the county Board of Commissioners from either Gwinnett, Rockdale or Newton counties.

View Point provides individual and group counseling, medical management counseling and crisis stabilization services. Many of View Point Health's clients are referred to them by county agencies, the judicial system, Department of Family and Children Services, schools and hospitals.

The agency operates out-patient clinics in Conyers in the J.P. Carr Human Services campus and in Covington at 8201 Hazelbrand Road. The agency has two outpatient clinics and other facilities in Gwinnett County.

It operates a 16-unit apartment facility for people with developmental disabilities on Kirkland Road in Newton County. The facility also houses a residential substance abuse treatment center.

Residents in View Point's three-county service area can also use an Adolescent Crisis Stabilization Program center in DeKalb County to address crisis issues and substance abuse.

View Point also offers a day social program for individuals dealing with severe psychological issues.

"This program is for those who simply cannot work or function due to their disabilities and we work with them in the day program Monday through Friday to get them ready to become active members of the community," Berry said.

Change came to the local agency following a settlement agreement in October 2010 between the federal Department of Justice and Georgia. Legal action was taken in 2007 when news reports found dozens of patients died under suspicious circumstances in the state-run facilities. Abuse by hospital workers, overuse of medications to sedate patients, and discharge of many patients to homeless shelters were also chronicled in news reports and testimony in the federal court case.

Georgia agreed to specific targets for creating housing aid and community treatment for people with disabilities, who in the past have often cycled in and out of the state's psychiatric hospitals.

Berry believes clients are better cared for in the communities rather than state hospitals and View Point Health is focusing its resources to that end.

"For long-term solutions, we feel we can help people better in their own communities," he said. "The care in state hospitals was horrible, so why would we want to send our citizens there? We see the higher level of care coming from the community."

One way is the agency's "Total Care Perspective," which Berry called a holistic approach for care. He said if a client has a physical health issue, the agency will recognize that it will have an impact on the person's psychological health and consider partnerships with other health care providers to address those needs.

The state said it will set aside $15 million in the current fiscal year as part of the settlement and $62 million next year to make the improvements.

Berry said that money is earmarked exclusively to meet the goals set by the federal settlement; however, View Point is facing a 2 percent cut in state funding.

"I think legislators recognize that the Department of Justice agreement trumps any cuts," he said. "I can say with the economic climate we're facing now the budget is having an impact on us, but it could be a lot worse."