While the fate of Southwestern State Hospital property remains in limbo, a new possibility surfaced at a Tuesday meeting of Thomas County commissioners.
Addressing Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell, Commissioner Merrill Baker said he had heard the Veterans Administration (VA) might be interested in the facility for military personnel.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Powell responded.
The sheriff, who also has heard about the possibility of VA use, said such a facility would be great for the community and citizens.
Powell suggested talking to U.S. congressmen and senators.
“Maybe that would be a good thing for you all as commissioners to do,” Powell told the board.
Frank Berry, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities (GDBHDD), said last week in Thomasville state officials and community leaders would meet in a couple of weeks to discuss what will become of the property.
Southwestern closed Dec. 31, resulting in the loss of about 650 jobs.
Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly told the Times-Enterprise Tuesday he also has heard VA rumors, but he has not been contacted.
GDBHDD is not involved in a discussion of the subject, said Angelyn Dionysates, GDBHDD press secretary.
“We don’t know anything about it,” Dionysates said.
A Tuesday phone call to the Washington, D.C., office of Eighth District U.S. Congressman Austin Scott was not returned.
The Southwestern discussion arose after Roger Walker, a Thomas County citizen, addressed commissioners about the hospital closing.
Walker thinks “things will be fine in Thomas County with the closing of Southwestern.”
Crime will not increase, he said, and residents of other counties who worked at the hospital took their salaries back to their home communities to spend.
Commission Vice Chairman Ken Hickey asked the Powell about transportation of mental patients by the sheriff’s office.
“Sometimes it gets to be quite a burden,” Powell said, adding that he thinks steps are being taken to make the situation as palatable as possible.
“But the change has come,” the sheriff said.
After the commission meeting, Powell said that in a recent 24-hour period, his office transported an individual to a mental facility in Appling County and carried out prisoner transports to Montezuma, DeKalb County and Tampa and Sanford in Florida.
Mental cases the sheriff’s office is transporting out of the county are individuals who would have gone to Southwestern.
Powell said that if there is no room at the new crisis center here, mental patients must be taken elsewhere.
In March, the sheriff’s office handled 101 mental health transports, Capt. Chuck McDonald, commander of the sheriff’s office patrol division, told the Times-Enterprise.
“That’s just adults. That’s not juveniles,” McDonald explained.
The transports were to Atlanta, Columbus, Savannah, some here and some to an alcohol/drug rehabilitation facility in Valdosta.
McDonald said 60 to 65 percent of such transports are out of county.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.