Completed later that same year, the hospital was named Battey State Hospital after Dr. Robert Battey of Rome, Georgia, a famous pioneer in the area of surgical treatment for ovarian cancer. It opened on September 1, 1943 in Rome, Georgia.
By June 1946, the facility was transferred to the State of Georgia and served as a tuberculosis hospital. During its peak, Battey General Hospital accommodated 2,000 tuberculosis patients.
Construction began in April 1971 for a new facility to replace Battey State Hospital and its 1940s-era design. In 1973, Battey State Hospital was renamed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital. Construction continued throughout the 1970s to replace all of the obsolete structures with the red brick buildings that now stand.
Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital opened in 1974, adding mental patients to the tuberculosis patients treated at Battey. By 1977, the hospital averaged about 281 patients a day, treated by 605 employees. The hospital had 260 beds reserved for mental hospital patients, dropping the allocated beds for tuberculosis patients from 80 to 50, and then eventually phasing out its inpatient tuberculosis unit completely in the 1990s.
As of January 2011, Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital had about 764 employees caring for 180 patients. For 27 years the hospital’s mission has been to serve mentally ill and developmentally disabled patients initially throughout a 16 county region, and later expanded to include 31 counties.
The facility will stop accepting new admissions on April 1, 2011. On June 30, 2011, Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital is set to close as part of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding treatment of psychiatric patients throughout all of Georgia’s seven allocated facilities. At the core of the agreement is a requirement for Georgia to deliver mental health care differently in the future.
State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece hoped that at least part of the hospital would remain open. “While I understand the move to community-based services, there are those who need supervision all the time. More and more, folks with mental health needs are finding their way into our prison system. I’m concerned about not having enough support out there for those who need it.”
Georgia’s move to privatize mental health care has angered many, including former state representative Buddy Childers of Floyd County who served as chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee. Floyd stated: “It’s a shame that we worked so hard and so long to put so many dollars toward mental health to see it wiped away with the swipe of a pen. I am sad for the clients, families and employees affected by this.”
Former Governor Sonny Perdue and the U.S. Justice Department announced in October 2010 that an agreement had been reached to avoid direct federal control over Georgia’s mental health system. The state would stop admitting developmentally disabled patients into Georgia hospitals by July 2011 and clear all existing patients by July 2015. The focus of the future will be community-based services, not hospitalization.
Consumer advocates have praised Georgia’s agreement with the Justice Department as a model for other states to follow. These groups content the focus in the future should be to increase community services state-wide, including housing, crisis teams and stabilization units. It is the hope of such plans that people with disabilities can avoid the need for hospitalization.
Georgia owns six other mental health hospitals, including: Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta; Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah; Central State Hospital in Milledgeville; Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville; West Central Georgia Regional Hospital in Columbus; and East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta.
Tom Wilson, a spokesman for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, stated that the seven state-run mental hospitals experienced a 29 percent decrease in people served during 2010. Wilson stated: “We are not going to need seven hospitals or six hospitals after five years.”
Patients who are now hospitalized will live in individual apartments, group homes and other settings, Wilson explained. Crisis teams and stabilization units will treat patients with mental illness, and private hospitals will treat those mental health patients requiring such care. Wilson also added: “Under the Olmstead decision [a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling], we have an obligation to serve people in the least restrictive setting. A hospital is the most restrictive setting.’’
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