Georgia Needs to Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

They say budgeting is a reflection of your priorities and that where you invest your money should tell someone where your heart lies. As I reflect upon my family budget on rainy days, some recent events have caused me to likewise reflect upon Georgia’s budget and allocation of its values. It’s a rainy morning here in Atlanta, and that always makes me think of a few folks… Today, I want to write about my friend and previous neighbor. He is someone I think about on rainy days as he’s often out walking. He is originally from Carrollton. He suffered a traumatic brain injury from getting hit by a U-haul truck when he was 17, biking home. He was struck from behind. He never saw it coming. My husband met him some months back as he was walking around in our neighborhood. He is a joy to encounter as he talks to everyone as a way to meaningfully address his self-professed fear of abandonment. While he resides in Hunter Hills, MLK Jr. Dr./ our street was just the main corridor for his walk to work at a bar up the street. I’m not going to use his name, but will discuss our encounters with him in regards to how the state does not properly allocate funding to illustrate how this becomes a burden for local jurisdictions in both the police as as well as healthcare.

If you’ve been reading my pieces for any amount of time you probably think I’m some bleeding heart and I fall for anything. I do have a propensity for caring, maybe more than I should, but I’m more cynical than one might initially realize. Politics does that to one. Running a business also makes one painfully aware of the constraints of a budget. I give a lot of time, but parting with my money is something I don’t do flippantly. And my husband finds it even harder to open his wallet.

So when our friend told my husband and I that he was having trouble with his house manager, I didn’t think too much of it. He has asked to rent a room from us, but I know I’m neither equipped to adequately care for him nor could I take the constant presence. I’m an extrovert, for sure, but not all conversation is the same. I also know with TBIs mood swings, aggressive behavior, and violence can be a part of it. This isn’t true for every person with a TBI, but I’ve also seen it demonstrated more than once. We all get frustrated when we feel we aren’t heard or respected, and this is compounded when you are trying your damnedest just to straighten out and convey your thoughts. 

There’s a kid who comes over and plays in our backyard often who I always thought was just quieter and a little slower to understand things until his father told us he fell from a two story balcony when he was six and experienced a TBI. We’re all super grateful he’s here, and we recognize that his frustration and outbursts are a part of his ongoing challenge to understand and be understood in the world around him. We love him and our other friend, and we try to ask questions to better understand things rather than make assumptions. 

But it’s human nature to make assumptions, and I’m no different, sadly. So back to the house manager and my assumptions…in Georgia, individuals who are in the state’s care and/ or in the care of the VA may be placed in group homes as a way to scale. These group homes are often sorted by the diagnosis, so you may have individuals who are on the spectrum in some spaces where in the case of our friend here, he’s in the care of the Division of Aging Services. He has a caseworker who he is in regular contact with, and she has advocated for him in both the group setting in our close vicinity and is currently trying to get him into an independent living situation. 

In talking to another neighbor who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, these group homes aren’t uncommon on this side of Atlanta. The combination of cheap real estate and sturdily built homes provide an excellent setting for landlords to purchase a home, place a house manager who may or may not be qualified in the setting, and a CNA to meet basic healthcare needs. Unfortunately, these houses don’t always have the trained personal while still collecting the check. My neighbor tells me that the VA pays $800/ person/ room for  the housing of our veterans and in many cases they are either abused or neglected. 

I need you to read that again- the very people who may or may not come home from putting their lives on the line for my freedom are abused and neglected-and this is a known racket of care in my area. 

My friend isn’t a vet. He’ll tell you he is, but he also embellishes some things. What he didn’t embellish were the problems he was having at home. Those were corroborated by the APD and EMS.

Last week, our friend called the APD and reported his house manager. While his case manager was working her hardest to find him a new home, he stayed at Grady, Atlanta Medical, and lastly at Emory- all at the cost of indigent care. The APD and Grady EMS responded to the calls, so this individual person who is receiving inadequate care from the state cost the city services and Grady indigent care (always hotly debated at the Gold Dome) just so he could avoid fisticuffs with his house manager. In the meantime, his house manager tossed out his clothes and any items he had in the home. In between moving from hospital to hospital (between which he walked to save money on $2.50 MARTA rides) and our neighborhood, he lost his bass and book bag- his only luggage. 

In the midst of this back and forth, my husband spoke with the responding officer and Grady EMS. It seems that the house in which our friend stays has a litany of documented complaints – all known to first responders. An open records request for the complaints has been filed and will be turned over to the Attorney General’s office. It’s my understanding elder care abuse is a pet issue of his. Additionally, we learned there are actually two houses- one for men and the other for women. The women’s home is newer but only the men’s home has regular reports of abuse and neglect in a variety of ways. My husband and I promised we wouldn’t let up on this, and the APD officer seemed to be grateful to have someone who was trying to do anything, as calls to this house are so common, he could rattle off the address from memory: 1385 Sharon St. Atlanta, GA. It’s listed as Atlanta Metropolitan Medical Services, LLC and one can also find 1385 Lakeboat Way SW as another address under the care of the same company.  

My assumptions about our friend were dead wrong, and because of his efforts (not ours) there will be greater attention paid to this issue. I regret my cynicism. I apologized to our friend for not acting sooner. May God have mercy on me for my lack of belief in my fellow human. 

Last Friday, our friend was told by his caseworker he would be moved to another house. He was so excited about this that he waited until my husband came home from work to share his great news- and then promptly missed the transport to take him to the new digs. We tried calling his caseworker, but her office phone didn’t have a direct number for after-hours. We tried 311 (but remember, it only works M-F, 7-7. We tried 211, the number for the United Way, but that wasn’t an option on Friday at 7pm either, sadly.

So he spent Friday- Monday in our home. 

Monday morning, the husband reached the caseworker before she was able to file a missing persons report, thankfully. We understood he would be receiving a pick up to be taken to a new home in Griffin between 5-6pm. We got the address of the new home, and at 7pm, when we couldn’t get the caseworker nor her supervisor on the phone, my husband left messages and told her he’d be driving our friend down himself. We ate dinner and the husband tried to reach them again. No dice. Road trip time, metal playlist queued up (both husband and friend like a headbanging good time so Slayer, Pantera, and Megadeath it is) and on to Griffin. I was grateful to be left behind. The caseworker called back around the airport- she was dealing with a crisis situation and after some phone tag, my husband received a new location in Riverdale, and Friend would be picked up the next day to go to Griffin.

A note on caseworkers- in DFCS and I’m betting in Elder Care, these caseworkers are dealing with literally hundreds of cases, far more than any one human can possibly adequately serve. Please do not assume I am calling attention to the inadequate care as a jab at her- or even the department- quite the opposite. The legislature defines the budget and the allocation of funds either reflects we support our citizens or we don’t. I’m unsure how one can see it any other way. The caseworker is trying to do her absolute best with the little the legislature gives her. 

Our state has regularly cut care for individuals like our friend, but this last session, I now finally understand why the legislature felt it was important to redistribute that money to policing across the state. The police are clearly handling all the services the state isn’t willing to pay for in local jurisdictions. The state often debates paying for Grady’s indigent care, identifying that as an “Atlanta problem” and is constantly slow to pay contracts for the care they’ve contracted out to facilities like the one at 1385 Sharon St. The legislature keeps cutting taxes and then has the expectation that local jurisdictions are going to pick up the tab. This is just robbing Peter to pay Paul and it’s costing our most vulnerable their well being. 

And for what? A stupid campaign promise to not raise taxes? Remember kids, Art Laffer said there was an optimal tax rate that was non zero.

I hope my assumptions are also wrong in that I’m betting those under the Gold Dome don’t mind that my husband and I provided for the three meals a day and the laundry services for our friend either. Legislators in GOOA are perfectly happy to shift the costs from the state to individuals- including the cost of purchasing new clothes and a haircut for our friend- to our wallet rather than the state’s. 

How is this anything other than a game of “not it”? 

I’m not here for it, y’all. And I know both Appropriations Chairs wouldn’t favor this treatment of a fellow man either. So I looked at our budget/priorities. 

Georgia increased funds for personnel for 13 adult protective services caseworkers to investigate reports of abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation of seniors and adults with disabilities in FY22, despite the FY budget decreasing the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund by $68,772 (the Trust Fund is funded from DUIs, and since no one was driving in 2020, the funding went down). This funding source and its allocation remind me that we’re aware of accidents happening and that we should care for people, but we’re not willing to create a funding stream to either fund safer roads and/or the provision of care when they aren’t safe. This is an excellent example of campaigning and governing being two different skills, and I need the latter more than the former from our state legislature. Georgia also increased funds for personnel for three public guardianship caseworkers to coordinate and monitor all services needed for the health and welfare of guardianship clients. Finally, the legislature increased funds for personnel for one central intake specialist to support the additional caseworkers. All of this can be found on page 103/209 in HB 81. If you continue down the page, you’ll see that the Feds gave money to the state for support & nutrition, which Georgia reallocated by a transfer of funds and 21 positions from the Elder Support Services program to the Elder Community Living Services program to consolidate program budgets and expenditures. 

Basically, the state of Georgia is funding their care of these homes by Federal funds instead of actually allocating any more of our budget to it. For a refresher, this is also what Georgia legislators decided to do in the area of funding Public Health- take the money from the feds, not our own budget. 

We’re effectively not paying for the public health nor care of our most vulnerable- we’re leaving that up to Washington. And on top of that, we’re over-burdening our police because we’re unwilling to adequately fund these services at a state level. No one can honestly think this is a reasonable solution, right?

We cannot keep moving our services from those who are able to provide care to the police! That’s like moving education from teachers to the person running detention. How is this a plan? How is this a reflection of our values? 

Put your money where your mouth is, Georgia. I have and I’m not picking up your slack any more. 

The thoughtless campaign promises of no new taxes are at the sacrifice of my friend and my personal budget without the knowledge of experience or medical training. I can keep our friend off the street, but can we agree this isn’t adequate care?  I would like to trust the state to hire professionals to intentionally and knowledgeably care for the most vulnerable in our society. I know that this knowledge and care comes at a cost that I am willing to pay in my taxes. It is my belief that with adequate funding, the state can be better suited to distribute that care than me or my husband. 

Is Georgia’s legislature willing to step up to the plate or do our cities (and we) have to keep filling in this gap?

Leave a Reply