As chief executive officer of Highland Rivers Health, it’s no secret I think Highland Rivers is a great agency. We’ve got great people, committed and passionate, who do excellent work. And the individuals we serve, who often come to us at a time they feel is the lowest point of their lives, know our staff truly care about them. I am very proud of Highland Rivers Health and hope the communities we serve in northwest Georgia feel the same way.

But I suppose it’s also no secret I may be a little biased. That’s why it’s always good when people outside our agency are able to reach the same conclusion – that Highland Rivers has good people who do a darn good job. Such was the case earlier this month when the Georgia Collaborative Administrative Services Organization conducted its annual comprehensive assessment of our agency.

The Georgia Collaborative ASO is a partner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Georgia’s state-level behavioral health agency. As one of Georgia’s 24 community service boards, Highland Rivers is a safety-net provider and is charged with providing a comprehensive set of core mental health, substance use and disability services in the communities we serve. While DBHDD provides funding for some of the services delivered by behavioral health providers in Georgia, the ASO helps ensure the services delivered meet state policy and quality guidelines.

The ASO assessment is comprehensive and examines three main areas — crisis services, intellectual and development disabilities services, and outpatient, community-based and substance use treatment services — as well as several items within each. For example, within the third area, assessors look at 19 different service lines (including such things as individual and family counseling, case management, intensive outpatient substance use treatment, peer support, psychosocial rehabilitation, and much more) — what DBHDD defines as core services.

In addition, even before the four-day assessment began Feb. 11, we were required to send hundreds of pages of documents to the ASO — program plans, agency policies, records of individuals served, clinical meeting notes, personnel and training records, billing records, and much more. This year, too, we were asked for COVID policies and procedures.

During the assessment, ASO staff pulled at random individual service records, service documentation and billing notes, and also interviewed individuals who had received services from the agency, as well as Highland Rivers staff members. To say that the assessment was comprehensive and in-depth may be a bit of an understatement.

When the assessment was complete, we received the results. Highland Rivers core services received a rating of 93%, one of our highest ever, and a substantial improvement over last year’s 81%. It’s even more remarkable because our staff accomplished this during a pandemic (and the various and detailed COVID policies we developed were noted to be exemplary).

Our crisis services score was 88%, with services during an individual’s initial evaluation and admission to a crisis unit receiving a 97%. Our IDD services also scored 88%, with no quality of care concerns identified by assessors. All three of the scores we received are higher than the average in Georgia.

Finally, inasmuch as I am proud of these scores, I will also be the first to say there is always room for improvement and we will be working diligently on making those improvements. In any case, I share these scores not only because I believe our team deserves recognition for its work, but also in the spirit of transparency, something that is fundamental to our success as a public agency.

I am very proud of Highland Rivers Health, and especially our outstanding staff – many of whom were recognized by name by ASO assessors — and wish to offer a heartfelt thank you to the Highland Rivers team for its dedication, passion and outstanding work.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in the 12-county region of Northwest Georgia.

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