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Interview with Thomas Bornemann, April 12, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:24 - Initial reactions to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution exposé articles

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Partial Transcript: Remember back in January 2007, when the Atlanta Journal Constitution started...

Segment Synopsis: Thomas Bornemann, the previous director of the Carter Center Mental Health program in Atlanta, talks about his initial reaction to the series of articles published by The Atlanta-Journal Constitution that exposed conditions within Georgia state mental health hospitals. The interviewer, Lei Ellingson, shares her surprise at the lack of initial response in Georgia towards the suspicious death of 14-year old Sarah Crider, who was under the care of Georgia Regional Hospital. Ellingson and Bornemann discuss how such a lack of response pushed them to start change in Georgia's state-operated mental health hospitals. Ellingson and Bornemann recall their first "secret" meetings with other coordinators in the Georgia mental healthcare system. Bornemann describes that after the meeting, he recognized the concern his associates felt over the conditions of the mental health system in Georgia, but realized that they lacked knowledge to pursue litigation.

Keywords: Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC); Carter Center Mental Health Program; Sarah Crider; State Psychiatric Hospitals

00:07:11 - Goals for advocacy group

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Partial Transcript: So and then you called the Bazelon Center.

Segment Synopsis: Bornemann discusses inviting Robert Bernstein, the CEO of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, to talk to the early advocates for mental health change in Georgia. Ellingson and Bornemann recall the process of creating goals for their advocacy group; including the pursuit of litigation against the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) and requirements for the new Georgia state mental health program. Ellingson talks about the disagreements between the Georgia State Department and advocacy groups over reforming the model of patient care in Georgia state mental hospitals.

Keywords: Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD); Robert Bernstein

00:13:55 - Settlement agreement: reaction and shortcomings

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Partial Transcript: And then we were traveling around the state talking to other stakeholders...

Segment Synopsis: Bornemann talks about how he and the new commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), worked together in addressing and organizing the reaction to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution articles. Ellingson recalls how she and Bornemann were able to hire a consultant to build a model for a new mental health system after catching the attention of advocacy groups who, in turn, offered to pay for consultant services. Ellingson talks about the introduction of the settlement agreement created by the Department of Justice, and she relates the response by the judge to the settlement agreement's shortcomings presented which were presented to him by Cynthia Wainscott. Ellingson describes the settlement agreement limitations, including its failure to create benchmarks for the accountability of proposed improvements to the Georgia mental health state hospitals.

Keywords: Atlanta Journal Constitution; Cynthia Wainscott; Department of Justice (DOJ); Frank W. Berry; Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD; stakeholders

00:19:21 - Settlement agreement shortcomings (cont.) / Government assistance

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Partial Transcript: And fortunately, the director of the Bazelon Center happened to be in town.

Segment Synopsis: Ellingson talks about how the Department of Justice's representatives were in disagreement with the advocacy groups' rejection of the terms of the settlement agreement. Ellingson adds that the settlement agreement proposed by the Department of Justice did not include alterations to the state hospitals, which was one of the major reasons that advocacy groups decided to take the case to court. Ellingson states the the judge offered the advocates the position of amici, (person(s) who submit case briefs with the intent of influencing the court), which required the advocacy groups to hold meetings to create details on the conditions of the state mental health hospitals. Bornemann describes the first meeting held, during which Rosalynn Carter (co-founder of The Carter Center) showed up unannounced and inspired the advocacy groups through her support. Ellingson credits Sonny Purdue, Bill McDonald and President Barack Obama's choices of Department of Justice representatives for the eventual transformation of the Georgia mental health department. Bornemann recalls meeting with Gov. Nathan Deal, who he commends for sustaining the effort to redevelop the Georgia mental health system through his appointments.

Keywords: Amici Curiae; Barack Obama; Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; Bill McDonald; Department of Justice; Nathan Deal; Rosalynn Carter; Sonny Perdue; The Carter Center for Mental Health

00:26:39 - Future changes to Georgia mental health / Concluding thoughts

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Partial Transcript: So, now it's just been a matter of monitoring the settlement agreement.

Segment Synopsis: Ellingson states that eventually the advocacy groups united in their goals and intentions for reforming patient care in Georgia state mental health hospitals. Bornemann talks about the persistence needed for advocacy to ensure continuous positive development in the mental health institutions. Ellingson and Bornemann discuss their regrets of not focusing more on developmental disability communities, as they recall they felt as though they were focused primarily on the mental health community. Ellingson talks about her wishes to embark on social changes in the area of child and adolescent mental health. Bornemann ends the interview by expressing his astonishment at the resilience and cooperation Georgia citizens displayed in the effort to change Georgia mental health hospitals.

Keywords: Carter Center; Developmental Disabilities; Georgia Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD); Mental health community