Community service boards are vitally important to Georgia

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By Melanie Dallas, PLC

By now you may know that Highland Rivers Behavioral Health (HRBH) was formed by the consolidation of three organizations: Highland Rivers Health, Cobb County Community Services Board, and Haralson Behavioral Health Services. In writing about this consolidation, I generally went on to note that the agency is now one of the largest community service boards in Georgia.

But while most people understand consolidations and mergers, if you’re wondering what a community service board is, you’re probably not alone. The name alone simply doesn’t tell you what a community service board actually does – not like the Department of Family and Children’s Services or a public health board.

As Highland Rivers Behavioral Health works to get our new name out in the 13 counties we serve in northwest Georgia, I thought it might be time to revisit what exactly is a community service board, what we do and why they are so important – individually and collectively – to our state, our communities and our citizens.

Community Service Boards (or CSBs) were created by state law in 1993 to serve as Georgia’s behavioral health safety net — a definition that itself might need some explaining. Behavioral health refers to the types of disorders that manifest through a person’s behaviors, namely mental illness and substance use disorders. And in this case, the safety net means making sure everyone has access to behavioral health services.

So when I say CSBs are the behavioral health safety net in Georgia, I mean agencies like Highland Rivers provide treatment and support services for mental illnesses and substance use disorders for people who otherwise could not access these services – people who are low-income, uninsured, underinsured, or on Medicaid, Medicare, or other public insurance. Additionally, as Georgia has worked to move people with disabilities out of institutional settings into local communities, CSBs also serve this population.

With the consolidation of our three agencies, there are currently 22 CSBs in Georgia serving all 159 counties. No matter where you live in Georgia, there is a CSB that serves your county (just like there is a public health department that serves your county); like Highland Rivers, most CSBs serve multiple counties. (If you live outside the counties served by Highland Rivers and want to find out which CSB serves your county, visit the Georgia Association of Community Service Boars website at www.gacsb.org).

CSBs in Georgia provide a variety of services to meet the needs of the individuals and communities they serve – outpatient treatment, residential treatment, group counseling, crisis stabilization, and much more. We serve homeless people, we work in schools, we offer services in prisons, we visit people living with serious mental illness in their homes, sometimes every day, and are available 24 hours a day.

In short, CSBs ensure that anyone in need of mental health or addictions treatment can receive it, regardless of their ability to pay. We are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) International and our services are based on nationally recognized evidence-based treatment protocols.

If it seems like community service boards do a lot, we do — and I’d hate to think what it could be like if CSBs didn’t exist in Georgia. The sad reality is that most of the more than 200,000 Georgians CSBs serve each year would simply not receive treatment. Many more could end up in the criminal justice system (which happens too often already), others could end up in crisis, in the emergency room or not here at all. It’s not a view of our state that I would ever want.

In this sense, community service boards benefit everyone in Georgia, even if you personally never receive services from one. We provide cost-effective services and tremendous ROI for Georgia residents.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Behavioral Health, which provides treatment and recovery services to people with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 13 counties in northwest Georgia which includes Bartow, Cherokee, Cobb, Floyd, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, and Whitfield.

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