Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies: Getting to know the Georgia Apex Program

Georgia currently ranks 51st in children’s mental health services but an infusion of dollars into Georgia’s system of care is expected to have a positive impact around the state. Governor Deal and the state legislature included an additional $21.4 million in the FY2019 state budget to improve and expand children’s behavioral health services. Of that allotment, $4.3 million are dedicated to fund 13 additional grants for the Georgia Apex Program, a school-based mental health program that improves early identification, access to and coordination of needed behavioral health (BH) services for children with behavioral health needs.

Nearly one in ten Georgia children ages 2 to 17 years have one or more diagnosed emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions and these conditions become more prevalent as children hit adolescence. Behavioral health issues can manifest in chronic absenteeism, classroom disruption, discipline issues, or other adverse behaviors at school, which can prevent young people from being academically successful.

To address the behavioral health needs of Georgia’s students, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) launched the Georgia Apex Program in 2015 to “[create] partnerships between community-based mental health providers and local schools to provide school-based mental health services.” The three main goals of the Apex Program are:

  1. To increase access to mental health services for children and youth;
  2. To provide early detection of child and adolescent mental health needs; and
  3. To increase coordination between community-based mental health providers and the local schools and districts they serve.

The Apex Program places mental health providers in schools to provide services like screening, assessment, counseling and therapy, and referrals to community support services like youth club houses. The program began with 29 community health providers in 104 Georgia schools, and as of February 2018, the program had expanded to 320 schools. Over the first two years of the program, more than 5000 students who had not previously received mental health services were screened and provided with the appropriate services and supports for their needs.

More than three quarters (76%) of the schools served by the Apex Program are located in rural areas where behavioral health services are more limited, and almost half (46.6%) are located in elementary schools so that services are available to younger students, when behavioral health conditions are often less severe and more treatable.

In addition to increasing access to care for students in need, the program has demonstrated success by integrating into a variety of school settings and improving coordination and communication between providers and school staff. Further, providers are able to bill for 75-90% of the students served each month, indicating the model may be financially sustainable.

The Georgia Apex Program is a promising model that brings mental health care services to Georgia children, reducing barriers to health care and improving their chances for academic success.  

To learn more about the Georgia Apex Program:  

  • Visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities’ Office of Children, Young Adults and Families or email georgia.apex@dbhdd.ga.gov
  • Read the resources available at Georgia State University’s Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at the Georgia Health Policy Center.
  • Watch the video below from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities and see how the Georgia Apex Program is making a difference in the lives of children and their families.

 


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GHF hosts educational forum about children’s behavioral health

Georgians for a Healthy Future hosted an educational forum titled Strong Foundations: Building a System of Care to Address the Behavioral Health Needs of Georgia Children on Tuesday, May 15. The forum explored the behavioral health needs of Georgia children and youth, Georgia’s publicly-supported behavioral health landscape, and successes and opportunities in the current system of care. The event also raised awareness about Georgia’s system of care in an effort to improve access to behavioral health services for children and youth.

The event began with Respect Institute speaker Tammie Harrison, who shared her experiences navigating the behavioral health care system and getting to a place of recovery.

Because many of the event attendees were new to the topic of children’s behavioral health (BH), GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert provided some foundational information about the prevalence of children’s BH conditions, contributors to poor BH, and the pathways to BH care and supports for young Georgians. You can find Laura’s PowerPoint slides here. She also debuted GHF’s new behavioral health fact sheet.

Dante McKay, Director of the Office of Children, Young Adults, & Families at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) provided attendees with an overview of DBHDD’s work, the 2017 System of Care state plan, and how the recently signed FY19 budget would impact the department’s ability to serve Georgia children and youth.

Dr. Erica Fener-Sitkoff, Executive Director of Voices for Georgia’s Children moderated a panel discussion of BH service providers, which included Wendy Farmer of Behavioral Health Link, Laura Lucas of Project LAUNCH (DBHDD), and Monica McGannon of CHRIS 180. The panelists discussed barriers to accessing BH services, which they said include continued stigma, lack of trained workforce, and transportation. The panel also identified innovative efforts, like Project LAUNCH and mobile crisis services, to bring BH services closer to consumers when and where they need it. When asked how Georgia’s next Governor could continue to make progress in the area of children’s behavioral health, panelists suggested a focus on workforce development, increasing access to community-based substance use treatment for teens, and prevention and early intervention.

 

If you missed the event, a recording of the webcast is available here.

To see photos, review materials, and read more about our Strong Foundations event, please visit the event page.


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New tool available to Georgia health care providers to address the opioid crisis

Laura Colbert, MPH, MCHES

 

Every day four Georgians die from opioid overdose and recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that the epidemic shows no signs of slowing. Health care providers, public health professionals, community leaders, and families are all searching for effective strategies to slow and stop this growing public health crisis. Some initial steps have been taken by Georgia policy makers and others to increase access to life-saving drugs like naloxone, improve and expand the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to prevent over-prescribing, and raise public awareness about the risks of opioids and other substances, but more is needed. Solutions must include evidence-based strategies that emphasize prevention and early intervention, as well as timely treatment and support for recovery.

An exciting development within Georgia’s Medicaid program gives health care providers an additional tool to aid in the fight against substance use disorders, especially among adolescents and young adults. Georgia’s Medicaid agency has activated the reimbursement codes for a tool called SBIRT, which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment. SBIRT is a set of tools that identifies people who use alcohol or other drugs at harmful levels and guides follow-up counseling and referral to treatment before serious long-term consequences occur.

Ninety percent of adults who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before they were 18 years old. Because Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids cover half of all Georgia children, the activation of the Medicaid reimbursement codes for SBIRT is a powerful opportunity to identify youth substance use and intervene early. Studies show that simply asking young people about drugs and alcohol use can lead to positive behavior changes and that brief interventions reduce the frequency and amount of alcohol or other drug use by adolescents.

This policy change was the product of a sustained advocacy effort by Georgians for a Healthy Future (GHF) and the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse (GCSA). We anticipate it will lead to the screening of an estimated 145,000 Georgia youth annually and that 36,000 of those youth will present substance use behaviors that prompt a brief intervention with a health care provider. Initial data from Georgia’s Medicaid agency demonstrates that some providers are already making use of the SBIRT codes in their practices.

Notwithstanding these exciting results, we have committed to continue our efforts to improve access to screening, early intervention, and recovery services and supports for young people across Georgia. While the Medicaid reimbursement codes allow physicians, physician extenders, and advanced practice registered nurses to provide SBIRT services, we recognize that RNs, LPNs, licensed clinical social workers, and certified peer counselors can and should be able to provide SBIRT to youth and adults. Further, the codes allow SBIRT to be provided primarily in health care settings, but that excludes schools and other community-based settings where most young people spend their time.

We invite you to join our efforts to prevent substance use among young Georgians. Spread the word by giving our new fact sheet to the providers in your clinic, public health department, or hospital. If you are a health care provider, attend a training to develop the skills to implement SBIRT with the people that you care for. Join our on-going advocacy efforts to activate the reimbursement codes for more practitioner levels (including RNs and LPNs) and more settings by contacting us to let us know you are interested.

The opioid and substance use crisis that is sweeping Georgia and impacting communities nationwide will require a full spectrum of solutions that leverage the expertise of health care providers, public and private resources, and community and family supports. SBIRT is an evidence-based tool that can play a significant role in our collective efforts to reduce substance use and create a healthier Georgia for all of us.

To learn more, visit our Keeping Youth on a Healthy Path page.

For health care providers: download our new fact sheet here.

 

 

 


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The future of prevention and recovery in Georgia

We know that helping people with substance use disorders get into recovery is hard and requires a lot of resources—a strong support system, the will to recover, and access to necessary health care services and supports.  The prevention of substance use disorders in the first place can take just as much work and requires similar resources.

We also know that the health care bill being considered by the Senate this week, puts recovery and prevention efforts at risk for millions of people, including thousands of Georgians.

The Senate’s proposed legislation would undermine guarantees that private insurance cover treatment for substance use disorders and mental illness. The bill’s $2.5 billion cut to Georgia’s Medicaid program would mean youth in low-income families could be denied critical preventive health services like screenings for depression or substance use disorders or even something as simple as immunizations or avoid seasonal affective disorder with the Best SAD Lamps from SadLampsUSA. People who need treatment services could lose coverage and access to life-saving treatment.

Congress is trying to mask the damage they are doing to our communities by setting up an emergency opioid response fund as part of the health care bill. This fund is insufficient and is no replacement for reliable health care coverage. This proposed “opioid fund” would not make up for deep cuts in Medicaid and a return to private insurance policies that discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, including substance use disorders. We can’t afford to return to a time when many state Medicaid programs and private insurers covered only short-term, minimal treatment for substance use disorders, if they covered it at all.

The Senate is set to vote on their health care bill this week and Georgia’s senators need to hear from you. Call Senator Johnny Isakson today! Tell him to oppose the legislation because it would harm people in treatment and recovery, handicap prevention efforts that avoid addiction in the first place, and decimate Georgia’s ability to respond to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Call 202-224-3643 today!

(Don’t know what to say when you call? Here’s some help.)


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Advocacy and policy up close

I am a graduate student in the Public Health program at Georgia State University. As a part of my coursework, I completed a semester-long practicum with Georgians for a Healthy Future as the Legislative Health Policy Intern.

In my academic program, I have spent extensive time learning about health policy, the legislative process, and the healthcare landscape in the United States. While covering those topics in a classroom setting was informative, seeing the legislative process first hand was invaluable. During my time with Georgians for a Healthy Future, I had the privilege of experiencing the legislative process by visiting the Capitol for committee and advocacy meetings, tracking legislation, and meeting policy makers and advocates.

Some of what I learned in the classroom applied to my work at GHF, but I found that there are some things you can only learn through experience. I was surprised by the length of time that legislators spend discussing some bills. Minutia in bill language could be debated for a whole two-hour meeting, while some key details might be voted on within minutes. I often felt a rollercoaster of emotions as a passionate hearing drew my sympathy for a given issue, while opposition pushed back on the bill. Spending time in committee hearings solidified my understanding that health policy often lies in gray areas, despite initially appearing to be black and white.

In my time at Georgians for a Healthy Future, I have learned a great deal about the organization and working in advocacy. Something that surprised me about GHF is the great value of the small things they do, such as encouraging constituents to call their legislators, sharing facts and resources with partner organizations, and talking to consumers. Their efforts often go unseen by the general public but have significant implications for the citizens of Georgia. I have seen the fruits of their labors, and it excites me to know there is an organization working so hard to protect and give a voice to our most vulnerable Georgians. Their partner organizations are equally inspiring in working to better the health of people in the state.

look forward to taking my GHF experience and knowledge with me into the public health field. I have gained a greater understanding of health policy and how bills get passed. I have learned the importance of advocacy and that every person can have a voice. I have learned that there are so many deeply passionate, caring, and hard-working individuals working towards health equity in Georgia. I have learned that the road to policy is often long, but the payoff is worth the time and effort. I will take these lessons with me as I move into my career, and work towards the goal of creating a healthier state and nation for everyone.

-Hayley Hamilton

MPH Candidate 2017

Georgia State University


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Senate Opioid Abuse study committee considers recommendations for omnibus bill

The Senate Opioid Abuse study committee has begun to flesh out key issues and considerations to draft recommendations for an omnibus bill that includes prevention, treatment, regulatory and enforcement and budgetary provisions to address Georgia’s opioid crisis GHF is encouraged by the committee’s focus on prevention as we have been raising awareness of the need to view substance use disorders as a public health issue that warrants prevention through our Somebody Finally Asked Me campaign. More specifically, we have been advocating for wider use of screening tools such as Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) for youth.

While the committee did not discuss SBIRT, over the past two meetings, the committee heard from hospital systems, pharmacists, the Georgia Division of Family & Child Services (DFCS) and substance abuse research experts on other steps the state could take.

Proposals included:

  • Increasing funding and wider promotion of substance abuse education with a focus on opioid use in schools and restoring some public health funds.
  • Improving provider education and training around prescribing, especially for pregnant women, and educating patients on prescription drug use and how to take saliva drug test before that.
  • Increasing access to drug treatment programs for pregnant women, allowing the sale of narcan over the counter, and adding buprenorphine to the Medicaid formulary, this could lead to addiction because of all the drugs and there are some great reviews for Quick Fix 6.2, but it could easily be taken care of with the help of an intervention, click here if you don´t know what is an intervention.
  • Promising protocols and programs that hospitals and emergency departments could implement to improve care delivery for chronic pain management, although if these pains are in a specific area like a headache, is better to visit some headache specialists, also children with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their mothers.
  • Current initiatives and ways to improve state and agency-level policies to improve response systems for law enforcement and child welfare services.

Presentations from Northside Hospital, Augusta University, DFCS, Tanner Health System, and the Georgia Substance Abuse Research Alliance are available upon request. The committee plans to dive deeper into analysis of law enforcement policies, therapeutic services and recommendations for budget appropriations during the upcoming meetings and a website for finding rehab facilities near me. GHF will continue to advocate for the committee to consider additional prevention methods in its recommendations. We have requested to present recommendations to activate Medicaid codes to promote the use of a substance use screening tool called SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to treatment) at the next committee meeting and are awaiting a response. The next committee meeting is scheduled for November 9, 2016 at 1:00 PM at the Capitol. Stay tuned for more updates and information!


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Accessing preventive services: what consumers need to know

coverageDid you know that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you can receive certain preventive services at absolutely no cost? It’s true! One of the key requirements of the ACA is that insurance companies must cover recommended preventive services at no cost to the consumer – even if you haven’t met your deductible. These include services such as mammograms, annual physicals, colonoscopies, well-woman exams, cholesterol screenings, tobacco cessation, and many more. Click here for a full list of the preventive services that must be covered by all insurance companies. There is also an additional list of required services for women and a separate one for children. It’s important to take advantage of these no-cost preventive services to keep you and your family healthy. Evidence shows that preventive services can save lives and improve health by identifying illnesses earlier, managing them more effectively, and treating them before they become complicated and debilitating conditions.

If you have any questions about your insurance, please contact our Consumer Education Specialist, Whitney Griggs by email or at 404-567-5016 x 5

 


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