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July 23, 2001

FOCUS helps mentally ill lead productive lives

By Alicia Sands Lurry


Grady Hospital’s FOCUS Intensive Outpatient Program is one of the few mental health programs in Atlanta designed for low-income people in crisis, individuals diagnosed with both mental health and substance abuse problems, and those being released from jail or inpatient mental health facilities.

Started in 1999, the program is designed specifically to prevent psychiatric hospitalization. With millions of Americans suffering from mental illness each year, the program fills a huge void. While it can sometimes take up to six weeks to receive an appointment at an outpatient mental health clinic, it takes just two to three days to be seen in the FOCUS program.

An added (and rare) feature of the program is that it welcomes patients who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Funded through Grady Health System and a grant from the Fulton County Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Regional Board, FOCUS is able to accept patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Leanne Raison, a School of Medicine psychiatrist and director of the FOCUS program, said the program is providing high-level service.

“It fills a gap that exists in the system for people who are in crisis and for those who are dually diagnosed,” she said. “It is a positive, cost-effective alternative that has produced outstanding clinical results. This program is a gem—a resource, however, that is not being fully utilized.”

The program, which is housed in Haverty Hall at 206 Edgewood Ave. in downtown Atlanta, accepts up to 25 patients for its intensive group therapy sessions. Admission is based on several criteria: Patients must be residents of Fulton or DeKalb counties; in crisis; at least 18 years of age; have a desire to get off drugs; and be on time for therapy. The program lasts three to six weeks.

Once enrolled, patients meet with four different staff members. A psychiatrist performs a full psychiatric evaluation; a mental health associate or social worker completes an extensive psychosocial evaluation; a nurse does a medical assessment; and a nurse practitioner performs a complete physical examination.

While in the program, all members learn stress management, coping and social skills, and family and group psychotherapy. Members who are substance abusers also attend meetings to learn about relapse prevention, the impact of drugs on mental and physical health, and how to have fun without using drugs.

The program has been particularly successful in improving patient services and preventing hospitalizations, since patients are less likely to relapse because of the strong group support.

To learn more about FOCUS, call 404-233-1809.


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