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Sunday, July 17, 2011 - 8:01pm

Program Bridges Gaps In Mental Illness

Updated: 3 years ago.
Georgia's strained mental health system is getting some help from a public-private venture. (photo Marcus Smith)

Mental health advocates are identifying the 100 Southeast Georgians most seriously affected by mental illness.

A two-year pilot program aims to break the cycle of jail, life on the streets and hospitalization.

The program is a joint effort between the non-profit National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Its goal is to bridge gaps in the state's mental health system.

The Alliance's Eric Spencer says, identified patients will get help from peer specialists, called navigators, to stay out of trouble.

"There are a lot of holes in community treatments," Spencer says. "The navigators are there to try to bridge the gap."

So far, the program's enrolled about 25 patients.

"They meet with the client, help them schedule appointments, find housing, meet their transportation needs and get a meaningful day, which is either a job or volunteer work," Spencer says.

The program, called Open Doors, costs about $4 million.

The state mental health agency and the Bristol-Myers-Squibb Foundation are sharing the cost.

A researcher from George Washington University is keeping track of area patients enrolled and not enrolled in the program to create case studies and comparisons.

If successful, the program could be replicated elsewhere.

Right now, it's only available in a 34 county region in Southeast Georgia.

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