[This guest opinion article is from Melanie Dallas, the CEO of Highland Rivers Behavioral Health]
By Melanie Dallas, LBC
On December 1, Highland Rivers Health released a press release about some big changes to our agency. Although we are already one of the largest Community Service Boards (CSB) in Georgia, we have grown even larger as the Haralson Behavioral Health Services and Cobb County Community Services Board (CCCSB) have been incorporated into our agency–which will now be known as Highland Rivers Behavioral Health.
Since 2003, Highland Rivers has served a 12-county area in northwest Georgia that is home to less than one million people. We have approximately 650 employees and an annual budget of approximately $54 million.
CSBs such as Highland Rivers were created to serve as a behavioral health safety net in Georgia, serving individuals who would not have access to treatment services for mental health, substance abuse, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. We serve low-income, uninsured or underinsured individuals. As a public services agency, 88 cents of every dollar goes directly to providing care.
Highland Rivers Health is a highly successful agency, serving between 15,000 and 16,000 individuals annually. While the wages we pay are not competitive due to the level of funding we receive, we have the most compassionate and committed employees working to serve our communities.
However, not every CSB was able to maintain operations at the state and federal reimbursement level. And with leadership with limited experience, the number of people they can serve may decrease. This was the challenge facing Cobb County CSB, especially as a single-county agency; It was not able to provide services at a level adequate for a county of over 750,000 people.
For its part, Haralson Behavioral Health Services has been a very small agency, serving a county of just under 30,000, that has done an amazing job providing care for its community. Highland Rivers does provide some services to county residents—and Haralson is counted among the 12 counties we served—but Haralson’s agency didn’t have the resources to expand further, or enhance the organization’s operations needed to transition into the future of health care.
And so, as we face an unprecedented increase in demand for behavioral health services in the wake of the pandemic, the time is right to make some bold changes—but changes that ensure behavioral health services remain available to Georgia’s most vulnerable residents.
Highland Rivers Behavioral Health will now become the largest publicly funded provider of behavioral health services in Georgia, with an annual budget of more than $77 million and employing nearly 1,000 professionals. We will continue to operate by a very small margin. But, without the need to maintain three separate administrative processes, we will be able to allocate more resources to services, and expect to increase the quantity and quality of services across our entire 13 district.
Finally, Highland Rivers Behavioral Health has a new logo. It was actually designed by a member of the Highland Rivers team who is a talented designer and also lives with a mental health condition. Represents healing, compassion, and self-awareness, and includes the color purple, for recovery from substance abuse; blue, for disability awareness; And green for mental health.
While the logo may not seem like a priority in the core work of inclusion, I think the new identity and its symbolism is an ideal way to keep our focus where it belongs – on our services and the people who need them. We look forward to what’s coming!
Melanie Dallas is a Licensed Professional Counsellor 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 Counties, Cobb, Floyd, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Harralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk and Whitfield.