Georgia sits at No. 48 in the nation for access to mental health services, according to a 2022 report from Mental Health America. (Photo by Antoni Shkraba, Pexel.)

By Hannah E. Jones

When it comes to access to mental health services, Georgia ranks almost last in the nation. To help reduce that barrier to entry, the federal government recently awarded a slate of grants to five providers in Georgia, including CHRIS 180.

CHRIS 180 was the only private provider in Georgia that was selected for the recent grant. (Photo courtesy of CHRIS 180.)

CHRIS 180 is an Atlanta-based organization that offers trauma-informed behavioral health services and wraparound support to children, adults and families. The nonprofit was selected for a $4 million, four-year grant to establish a Certified Community Behavioral Health Center (CCBHC). The funds were granted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The CCBHC model was created in 2014 to provide access to comprehensive behavioral health care. CCBHCs are required to serve anyone pursuing treatment for mental health or substance use, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, age or where they live. 

“The focus is integrative care. You want to try to integrate mental health and behavioral health services with physical and medical services,” CHRIS 180 Chief Clinical Officer Anne Cornell said. “For a lot of us, and certainly in disadvantaged communities, [healthcare operates in] silos; They don’t connect the dots and don’t talk to each other.”

As a CCBHC, CHRIS 180 will directly provide or work with partners to offer nine types of services outlined by SAMHSA, including 24-hour crisis care and care coordination with local providers. With the new funding and model, the CHRIS 180 team anticipates serving approximately 1,200 additional patients.

Today, there are over 450 CCBHCs across the country, with eight in Georgia at various stages — including the five that were recently selected.

These services aim to increase access to care through a holistic health approach. Rather than regarding the mind and body as separate entities, the CCBHC approach sees the two as interconnected. This model also puts the providers in charge of offering a continuum of care, rather than expecting the patient to piece together their resources.

“Often, [there are] too many appointments, too confusing systems to navigate [and] that leads to no services or a reliance on one and not having all your needs met,” Cornell said.

She added: “Our hope is [to offer] a much more holistic approach for an individual that really targets what they need when they need it.” 

To achieve this integrated care, the team is implementing a new electronic health record to keep close track of patients’ needs and to effectively communicate with partners.

“A lot of these vulnerable families have many needs that aren’t going to be solved with only therapy,” Cornell said. “Really trying to be collaborative, in terms of, you need housing, a job, trauma work, daycare — really looking at what each family needs.”

The CHRIS 180 team is also emphasizing providing holistic support for veterans, along with grief care for children. According to a recent study, Georgia is the fifth-highest in the nation for children who lost their caregivers due to COVID-19.

Ultimately, Cornell sees the CCBHC services as a way to be proactive, rather than simply reactive.  

“If we can prevent things from happening, if we can help vulnerable families and people that we know are struggling, let’s just [do that,]” Cornell said. “Don’t just wait until they crash and burn.”

Click here to learn more about CHRIS 180 services and go here if you have questions for the team.

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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