Extending the Healing Continuum in North Georgia

Extending the Healing Continuum in North Georgia

“The new Highland Rivers Recovery & Wellness campus is a manifestation of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities’ commitment to the goal of providing easy access to high-quality care.” – Cassandra Price, director, Office of Addictive Diseases

Melanie Dallas, interim CEO, HRH

“Too many clients have been trapped in a recurring cycle of detox and relapse,” says Highland Rivers Health Interim CEO Melanie Dallas talking about the genesis of the new center. Like providers elsewhere, Highland Rivers was concerned about consumers for whom treatment did not result in sustained recovery.

Too many individuals were returning “on a regular basis to services at the deep end – to our emergency rooms, to inpatient care,” says outgoing Highland Rivers CEO Jason Bearden.

Jason Bearden, outgoing CEO, HRH

Jason Bearden, outgoing CEO, HRH

While Highland Rivers’ leadership had a theory, any conclusions had to be grounded in data. They analyzed admissions to every crisis stabilization unit in north Georgia and found that the people returning again and again for crisis intervention services were those with severe addiction. “That was the primary driver,” says Bearden.

More than 60% of returning clients had a substance abuse diagnosis. Though some had co-occurring mental health disorders, the primary diagnosis was substance abuse. Speaking to clients at discharge, Highland Rivers identified another piece of the puzzle. While each had successfully completed detox, many clients needed additional support to live a life in recovery, but their care plan ended at the point of discharge. “There was no transitional or stable housing and certainly no treatment services,” says Bearden.

To address this need, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) has funded two new programs at Highland Rivers’ new Jasper campus.

The Intensive Outpatient Program serves men and women with addiction or co-occurring substance abuse and mental illness. This program offers group treatment facilitated by licensed therapists and certified abuse counselors. Groups meet Monday through Friday, and clients may choose from three sessions (9 a.m.-noon, 1-4 p.m., or 6-9 p.m.). The program also offers education on trauma recovery, parenting, anger management, coping skills and work skills. Over a period of about six months, the treatment level down steps from 20 hours a week to three hours a week.

The Highland Recovery Center is the first publicly-funded residential addiction recovery facility for men in north Georgia. With 20 beds, the program is open to men with a primary diagnosis of substance abuse. Highland Rivers anticipates the average length of stay to be six months.

Also based on the Jasper campus is Homes for Recovery, a program that provides stable, secure housing for men and women in recovery while they continue to attend community 12-step meetings, individual therapy, and begin working.


Back row (left to right): Ansley Silvers, Melanie Dallas, Charles Fetner, Amanda Wolfe, Dan Stephens, Heather Marrs, Jason Bearden, Lyle Woodard, Jeremy Mitchell, Kevin Scott, Robert Watson, Chris Farmer, Ryan Swartz, John Turner, Deana Wimbish. Seated (left to right): Jared Echevarria, Cassandra Price, Jean Smiley, Pam Watkins, Deanna Hendley, Chantel Adams, Marcia Tanner, Millie Evans.


More than a hundred people came to witness and celebrate the opening of the new Jasper campus on November 20, 2014. “It was just remarkable to see the whole community turn out,” says Kathleen Varda, Highland Rivers’ director of strategy and business development. “There were people in recovery, judges, policemen, sheriffs, elected officials, and Highland Rivers’ leadership and staff members. It was a great moment for this community, for Highland Rivers, and for Georgia,” says Varda


After sharing his story of recovery, Lyle Woodard of Highland Rivers Health called for a moment of silence for those still grappling with addiction.

“Lyle Woodard, who’s on our staff, shared the story of his recovery. Then he called for a moment of silence in honor of the people and their families who are still struggling to reach recovery. It was a very powerful moment. You could hear the wind blowing through the leaves,” says Varda.

“That’s how you get off the merry-go-round of detox and relapse: one baby step at a time, with hope and the support of your community.” – Jason Bearden