Melanie Dallas: 2021 year in review: excellence at every level

Melanie Dallas

As we look back over 2021, I will admit I didn’t think we would still be dealing with COVID-19. Yet here we are. But even if 2021 didn’t have quite the same sense of urgency around this disease as 2020, it was still an important consideration in our operations. Thankfully, our staff rose to the occasion, as they did in 2020, as they always do, getting vaccinated, washing their hands, wearing masks in our facilities — in short, doing what needed to be done in order to keep our doors open and serve our communities.

That Highland Rivers continued to provide services throughout 2021, in-person and through tele-medicine, helping thousands of people with behavioral health needs, is one of the most important highlights of 2021. And that’s why I am mentioning it first.

Community Service Boards like Highland Rivers are the state’s behavioral health safety net, providing treatment and recovery services to individuals who are low-income, uninsured or underinsured, for mental health challenges, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. As in 2020, there has rarely been a time when behavioral health services have been more essential.

Because the success of our agency is first and foremost a function of the commitment of our staff, so too was an honor we received this fall, when the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities named Highland Rivers Health Georgia’s 2021 Behavioral Health Provider of the Year.

As I noted at the time, this award really belongs to our more than 650 staff members — we persevered during the past year because of the compassion, care and dedication of every single member of our team. Again, our staff is one of the most important highlights of our agency every year — every day, really — and I am extremely grateful to them.

Highland Rivers received a similar affirmation earlier in the 2021 with the renewal of our accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) International. Although we have been CARF-accredited since 2003, it is always gratifying to know we do such good work when compared to objective industry standards.

The accreditation process included a review of more than 230 key operational areas across 26 agency service lines by a team of seven CARF surveyors. The three-day survey took place in May and included a comprehensive review of agency policies, procedures and program plans. Surveyors also examined outcome data, service documentation and HIPPA compliance, and conducted interviews with agency staff, board members and individuals receiving services from Highland Rivers Health.

The CARF report stated that our commitment to continuous quality improvement drives our goal to provide much-needed services and supports in the community. Likewise, program audits conducted by the Georgia Administrative Services Organization and DBHDD both resulted in exemplary scores for the agency. In all three cases, such excellence is a reflection of our staff more than anything else.

Finally, Highland Rivers undertook several initiatives and partnerships that are important to the communities and individuals we serve including: two grant partnerships, with Mercer University and Morehouse School of Medicine, to target opioids; the third annual Operation Gratitude virtual recovery celebration for veterans receiving services from our agency; an online LGBTQ+ training for families, as well as a Family Fun Day event and resource fair sponsored by our System of Care program; and development of a series of videos shared on social media that highlighted first-person stories of recovery.

Most recently of course is the announcement that both Cobb County Community Services Board and Haralson Behavioral Health Services will be consolidated into Highland Rivers, and we will become known as Highland Rivers Behavioral Health. This work is ongoing and seeing it come to fruition will likely be one of the highlights of 2022.

In closing, I want to say how proud we are to serve the communities of Northwest Georgia. I wish you happy holidays, and a happy and healthy New Year.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for mental health, addiction and intellectual developmental disabilities in a 13-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Whitfield and Murray counties.

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