This guest commentary is by Melanie Dallas, LPC, CEO of Highland Rivers Behavioral Health.
As one of the largest behavioral health safety-net agencies in Georgia, it is an understatement to say Highland Rivers Behavioral Health does a lot of work. In fact, with a team of nearly 900 staff members that includes therapists, addiction counselors, peer specialists, case managers, psychiatrists, health services technicians and many more, Highland Rivers provides thousands of services to thousands of individuals each year.
Even so, we are always looking for ways to expand our services, to reach more people, to prioritize members of our communities who may have unique needs and challenges – veterans, individuals struggling with opioids, re-entering the workforce, or individuals in crisis.
With the assistance of the Highland Rivers Foundation, we have received several grants which allow us to go above and beyond our conventional services with new, innovative and highly-focused programs, and build new and creative community partnerships as well.
As we begin 2023, I wanted to take this opportunity to review some of the grant-funded programs we are implementing – programs that we know will make a meaningful difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. And because we simply couldn’t do all this work by ourselves, you’ll notice that all of these initiatives involve community partners, which also helps link individuals to other critical community resources.
Veteran suicide prevention. A grant from the Veterans Administration, the Staff Sergeant Fox grant, focuses on decreasing veteran suicide in Cherokee and Pickens counties. Highland Rivers, in partnership with the Marietta Vet Center, Cherokee County Homeless Veterans Program, and the Center for the Advancement of Military and Emergency Services (at Kennesaw State University), will employ a multi-disciplinary (clinicians, peers, case managers, nurse and an APRN) rapid response team specifically for veterans who may be in crisis or imminent risk of suicide. Highland Rivers has recently completed hiring staff for this program, which is set to begin shortly.
Co-response. A co-response program pairs a uniformed law enforcement officer with a licensed mental health clinician to respond to individuals in behavioral health crisis in the community. Highland Rivers has had a highly-successful co-response program in Cobb County since 2019, and over the past several months has received three grants – from the Bureau of Justice, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and most recently, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities – to expand co-response into Catoosa, Cherokee and Pickens counties respectively.
Community health. A second grant from SAMHSA is helping Highland Rivers Behavioral Health enhance community outreach and engagement activities, and expand both our APEX school-based mental health program, and our hospital emergency department assessment and diversion partnership programs.
Recovery-to-work. This grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission allows Highland Rivers to support individuals who are in recovery from substance abuse disorder as they re-enter the workforce. Targeting individuals in Polk, Haralson, Whitfield and Murray counties, the grant helps provide training and technical assistance to chambers of commerce, and small and large employers on how to support individuals in recovery.
Opioid prevention. A partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, the Community Education and Training in Opioid Use Reduction (CETOUR) program is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and targets Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties. The grant supports treatment and prevention of opioid use disorder, as well as the distribution of Narcan kits (a fast-acting nasal spray that can reverse opioid overdose) to community partners and training in how to administer it to individuals experiencing overdose.
These grants, as well as many others, help Highland Rivers and our partners enhance the services available in our communities. But more important, these initiatives help our community remove barriers and ensure everyone has access to services that meet their unique needs, and have the support and resources they need to live in recovery in their community.
Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Behavioral Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 13-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Floyd, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk and Whitfield counties.