Overview:

The $1.15 million comes from a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant and will go to renovations for a dedicated, secure 12-bed unit for patients seeking mental health and substance abuse treatment. Those beds will, in turn, free up other emergency room beds.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is in Riverdale this afternoon, where he is holding a private roundtable with city leaders after he announced funding for Southern Regional Medical Center to upgrade its mental health and substance abuse services.

The $1.15 million comes from a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant and will go to renovations for a dedicated, secure 12-bed unit for patients seeking mental health and substance abuse treatment. Those beds will, in turn, free up other emergency room beds.

Southern Regional Medical Center President and CEO Charlotte Dupré praised Sen. Jon Ossoff for securing $1.15 million in funding for a 12-bed mental health and substance abuse unit. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

State Rep. Yasmin Neal, State Rep. Rhonda Burnough, Chairman Jeff Turner, Fire Chief Landry Merkison, and Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day (representing all the county’s mayors) were among the dignitaries present.

“This is a big day for Clayton County,” Ossoff said. “I wanted to come here today to announce that I’ve secured the resources for a major expansion of mental health care and substance abuse treatment services here at Southern Regional. This is over a million dollars in supplementary funding, it is on its way, and I think about Clayton County every single day, and how to serve this community. And this community has not always received the attention that it needs and that it deserves. And that’s why I fought to secure these resources, so that this hospital can upgrade and expand mental health care and substance abuse treatment to serve the people in the surrounding community.”

Ossoff said the funds are “in disbursement now, and will be arriving shortly. I built a bipartisan coalition in the Senate of Democrats and Republicans, making the case for investment in healthcare here in Clayton County, making the case for substance abuse treatment and mental health services here in Clayton County, and it passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis, has been signed into law, and will shortly be arriving at the hospital.”

Ossoff also praised SRMC’s staff for its hard work.

“Let me extend my gratitude and humble respect and appreciation for the amazing team here at Southern Regional,” Ossoff said during a press conference. “I had the opportunity to walk through the facility with Dr. Justin and the clinical leadership here and to see how hard they’re working every day to serve the people of Clayton County, and I’m grateful for everybody involved in that effort: the doctors, the nurses, the techs, the administrative staff, and the leadership of this hospital, for helping to save lives and relieve suffering and improve quality of life here in the community.”

“Thank you to the chief and your fire and rescue team, and the incredible EMTs who are doing great work every day in your mobile units, saving lives,” Ossoff told Merkison.

SRMC President and CEO Charlotte Dupré took Ossoff on a tour of the hospital before the press conference.

“I’ve been here at Southern Regional for 37 years,” said Chief Nursing Officer Janie Hinton, who also is in charge of the emergency department. “I’ve stayed at Southern Regional because I’m committed to our families, patients, staff, as well as physicians. We truly have incredible people here, and we serve a community that truly needs us and depends on us to be here.

“Over the past several years, we have seen an increase in the amount of mental health patients that come in, seeking care through our emergency department. Although we are not a psychiatric facility, we do provide that care to patients and work diligently to get them placed to a mental health facility.

“Our top priority here at Southern Regional is high-quality care in a safe environment, and this new mental health assessment and holding area adjacent from our emergency department will provide that safer environment, not only for the patients but for the physicians, nurses, and any other staff that help care for the patients. This is so needed for the community and the hospital, so Senator Ossoff, I’d like to thank you on behalf of the ED team and on behalf of the nurses here at Southern Regional Medical Center.”

Merkison said, “I, too, want to echo the appreciation to Senator Ossoff and his team for being able to secure this much-needed funding, with the never-ending support of Chairman Jeffrey Turner and the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, our state elected delegation who are endless supporters of the men and women of Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services. They give us the resources we need to provide the very best in pre-hospital emergency care that the state has to offer and arguably that this country has to offer.

“Like so, this hospital provides the very best in that care, and I think that’s been recognized now by our nationally-elected leadership, and with the support of this funding, our ability to provide safe, effective care for our mental health population just got a lot better. And once again, sir, on behalf of my men and women, I thank you for your dedication to making sure that our people remain safe, this hospital remains safe, but more importantly, our community remains safe. So thank you very much.”

Harsha Upadhyay, CEO of Region III for Prime Healthcare, emphasized, “This hospital is the backbone of this community. The services that Charlotte mentioned are vital to serve the community of this size and complexity. And I think over a bit of time, as Janie just mentioned, the mental health crisis in the community has been increasing, the resources have been shrinking, and this is a much-needed support to the community. Senator, I needed to thank you for that, and Chairman Turner for bringing it to everybody’s attention.”

Dupré said Ossoff’s visit was a real morale booster for SRMC’s staff, which has been under incredible pressure since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just to have a senator to come and visit you, they were elated just going down the hallways. He spoke to each and every one of our staff members, whether it’s EDS, nursing, the doctors, so it’s very meaningful to feel that support and the energy. And this grant is going to be wonderful. Just for safety, to make sure our staff is safe.

“And it also opens up the opportunity for a chest pain unit, right in the hospital, in the emergency department. We have 26 beds but ten of those being used up right now, ten to 14 actually, with behavioral health patients,” Dupré explained. “So the key is to have their own unit and to be able to open those beds up for those people….so that they’re not waiting, so that we can expedite the care.”

When some patients experiencing a mental health crisis come into Southern Regional’s ER, they can become agitated, wander off from the hospital for parts unknown, or threaten staff and other patients. By providing a short-term bed in a dedicated unit, staff can keep everyone safe while they find those patients a full-service mental health or addiction treatment facility.

Robin Kemp

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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  1. Thank you Senator John Ossoff for being a man of your words and choosing Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale Ga to support us in enhancing the quality of care and the lives of our patients. Southern Regional Hospital serves beyond our community. We have patients with mental disorders who come from Other hospitals/communities around metro Atlanta, Gainesville, Athens ga, Augusta ga etc. So, we need all the support to enhance our services and maintain excellent patient care. Thank you Clayton county officials, Dr. Justin Anyokwu, the president and CEO Southern Regional, the chief Nursing officer Janie Hinton, the Director of the the Behavioral Health Unit and all the staff at Southern Regional Medical Center