State nursing home in Milledgeville to close in 2013

jgaines@macon.comNovember 25, 2012 

In a little more than a year, the James B. Craig Nursing Center at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville will close, sending 127 severely disabled patients to smaller community nursing facilities and forcing many of its 350 employees to search for new jobs.

“We’re anticipating closing the Craig Center Dec. 31 of 2013,” Regional Hospital Administrator Dan Howell said. Patients will gradually be evaluated and moved to other facilities with varying levels of care depending on patients’ needs.

There are three reasons the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities has chosen to close the state-run nursing home, he said.

“Number one is the state of Georgia is choosing not to be in the nursing home business any longer,” Howell said. “Two is the belief that the individuals who currently reside at the Craig Center can be supported within existing community care providers.”

And third, he said, state officials aren’t sure the Craig Center’s continued operation would meet standards of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Justice Department began investigating Georgia state hospitals in 2007 and found that “preventable deaths, suicides and assaults occurred with alarming frequency,” according to an Oct. 19, 2010, federal announcement.

“Further investigation found that the state also failed to serve individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs,” the announcement said.

That violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding Georgia state hospitals.

In October 2010, state and federal officials announced a legal settlement to transform Georgia’s mental health and developmental disability system.

“Under this agreement, the state of Georgia will provide services in the community to hundreds of people with developmental disabilities and thousands of people with mental illness,” Thomas Perez, assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, said then.

The settlement gave Georgia five years to provide 9,000 mentally ill people with community-based care. That included creation of at least 1,000 Medicaid waivers to move all developmentally disabled people in state hospitals to community nursing care, including increased family and housing support.

But, Perez said, the settlement was also about money. State hospitals spent an average of $174,000 per year to house each patient, compared with the $47,000 per year average of providing services at home. Also, services given outside of institutions could qualify for Medicaid matching funds instead of being paid for entirely by the state, according to a release of his prepared remarks from 2010.

Already, just half of the Craig Center’s 255 beds are occupied. But its closure will affect nearly three times as many employees as patients.

“As we begin to downsize and as individuals begin moving into the community, we will do our best to look into other opportunities for individuals on our campus,” Howell said. “They will have opportunities for other state jobs.”

But considering how much state health-care facilities have already cut back, he acknowledged that many of the people now working at the Milledgeville center won’t find similar positions elsewhere.

A public meeting on the plan is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday in Columbus, at West Central Georgia Regional Hospital.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.

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