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Interview with Harriet Van Norte, June 21, 2017

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:22 - Working in the Georgia Department of Health

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Partial Transcript: Tell us about how you got to Georgia and how you got started in developmental disability services?

Segment Synopsis: Van Norte talks about how she came to work in the Department of Public Health as the admissions coordinator of the state mental health hospitals. Van Norte details that she was hired despite having a master's and bachelor's degree in business, and no prior experience in the field of developmental disabilities. Van Norte explains that the Georgia state mental health department at the time was small, with few faculty. Van Norte explains that her job was to admit and categorize patients into the state's mental hospitals according to the urgency of their conditions. Van Norte states that state community care for the mentally ill at the time was minimum, and the majority of community care was provided by the private sector. Van Norte talks about the growth in community services which occurred around 1973. Van Norte recalls that she often investigated the community services to determine what services the community lacked. She credits her attitude towards helping those with developmental disabilities as helping her to be successful in her work.

Keywords: community services; developmental disabilities; mental health

00:06:11 - Patient admissions influx / Working as director of residential services

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Partial Transcript: Tell us more about...

Segment Synopsis: Van Norte talks about how the Georgia public health office handled the increased patient admissions caused by the influx of community care which occurred around 1977. Van Norte explains that the mental health sector of government commandeered officials in other state government sectors to fund the creation of community programs. Van Norte explains that federal and state funding was used for training programs as well as group home care. Van Norte relates an incident in which she in her position as the new residential director had to handle a case where two patients with mental health disorders wanted to continue residency in their individual apartments despite their conditions. Van Norte shares that she was able to allow them to continue their residency and receive care, an experience which she emphasizes as her unconventional approach to residential care.

Keywords: Connie O'Brien; Developmental Disabilities; John O' Brien; Mental Health; Samuel Zamarripa; funding

00:14:10 - Accomplishments through networking

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Partial Transcript: I guess my main role through the years has always been...

Segment Synopsis: Van Norte explains that she developed relationships throughout her career, and utilized her networking abilities to provide funding for many sectors in the Georgia public health system. Van Norte talks about how she gathered people who had expansive knowledge in the field, and she explains that she used their talents to build up resources for Georgia mental health community services. Van Norte talks about how she came to understand the political aspects of funding, she emphasizes the importance of relationships to fundraising.

Keywords: Connie O'Brien; John O' Brien; Pete Hackney; Samuel Zamarripa; networking

00:20:18 - Leaving the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities

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Partial Transcript: Harriet what would you say that you're most proud of looking back over your career in developmental disabilities?

Segment Synopsis: Van Norte recalls that throughout her career, she is most proud of her business skills and the role her talents played in advancing community mental health care services. Van Norte shares her concerns over the fact that patients who were moved out of the hospitals after initial treatment might not have received the best community care for their conditions. Van Norte recalls her decision to leave the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (BHDD) after legalities slowed down political processes and further hindered the possibilities of change from within the system. Van Norte states that she later became the Director of Consumer Affairs at the Georgia Public Service Commission. Van Norte talks about projects she did outside work hours at the Public Service Commission, all of which had the intention of helping the disability community in Georgia.

Keywords: Becky Peterson; Department of Human Resources; Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities; Public Service Commissions; Samuel Zamarippa

00:27:42 - Recollections at the Public Service Commission / Influencing legislation through networking

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Partial Transcript: As we know, as a state employee at the time, that was really not something you should have been doing...

Segment Synopsis: Van Norte shares how she managed to be involved in side projects with the purpose of helping those with disabilities without losing her job at the Public Service Commissions due to the potential conflict of interest. Van Norte states that she established relationships with politicians who she would meet through local events (outside of work hours) which allowed her to budget and expedite projects such as respite care. Van Norte describes the normal bureaucratic process of securing funding for projects and highlights the time-consuming nature of the process. Van Norte describes her networking team across the state of Georgia, which helped her advocate for beneficial legislation.

Keywords: Public Service Commissions; legislation; networking

00:36:07 - Gathering legislative funding

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Partial Transcript: I think that getting it done is something that is a bit unique...

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer, Charles Hopkins, talks about Van Norte's ability to stretch budget limitations in order to provide funding for projects focused on helping those with disabilities that might not have received funding without her efforts. Van Norte explains the process and purpose of holding meetings to allow political officials to work out funding in order to progress projects. Van Norte recalls how people in the state's government might have held suspicions about Van Norte's method of funding, though no opposition ever presented itself. Van Norte talks about the excitement present among advocacy groups, stakeholders, and legislators during the deinstitutionalization movement for those with developmental and mental disabilities. Van Norte describes the training programs held across the state of Georgia to educate practitioners about community-based care required as a result of deinstitutionalization.

Keywords: Gerald Provencal; Glenn County; Patrick Puckett; Public Service Commission; Technical Assistance Center (TAC)

00:44:58 - Leaving the Department of Human Resources / Van Norte's community impact

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Partial Transcript: There were new people you bought in from out of state who were helping us...

Segment Synopsis: Van Norte talks about the in and out-of-state assistance provided to the state of Georgia in order to promote the de-institutionalization movement. The interviewer, Charles Hopkins, emphasizes the number of people that attended Van Norte's retirement party from the Department of Human Resources, which he evidences as Van Norte's ability to create friends and impact people. Van Norte explains that she made many friends in the Department of Human Resources because she really cared about the people she worked with. The interviewer talks about the impact Van Norte had on the state of Georgia and about her contribution to the quality of Georgia's disability services.

Keywords: Department of Human Resources; Derek Defrain; Gerald Provencal; Glenn County; Macomb-Oakland Regional Center; Public Commissions Office