A BUMPY RIDE, PART 1: Remembering the downsizing of Central State Hospital and the closing of four state prisons
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of Baldwin2K articles on Milledgeville/Baldwin County's job market and how the job market has changed since the early 2000s.
Between the Great Recession and the COVID pandemic, the last 15 years have been a bumpy ride for most towns and cities across America.
Here in Milledgeville/Baldwin County, let's just say it's been especially bumpy.
The most significant occurrence, of course, was the drastic downsizing of Central State Hospital. Today, all that remains of Central State is the Cook Building, which houses individuals deemed by a court as "mentally unfit to stand trial," as well as some administrative jobs at the Allen Building.
The dismantling of Central State began in early 2009, during the middle of the Great Recession, as if things weren't already complicated enough. Piece by piece, building by building, entire units at Central State eventually were shut down and employees laid off en masse.
At the time, "community settings" was all the rage around the United States Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, and group homes supposedly were the magic bullet for mental health in Georgia. The DOJ sued the state of Georgia, and the state ultimately agreed to begin emptying out its mental hospitals and finding "community settings" for all of its developmentally disabled clients.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, back when it yielded way more power of persuasion than it does now, also jumped in around this same time, writing a series of damning articles about Central State and Georgia's other mental health hospitals. The AJC then came over the top with several super flattering articles about group homes and the many benefits of group homes.
To its credit, seven or eight years later, the AJC published a series of in-depth articles on group homes and serious problems at group homes. Wrote the AJC in 2015:
But, the newspaper found, many (clients) appear to be no better off — or, in some cases, even worse off — now than when they lived in the state’s dangerous and dysfunctional psychiatric facilities.
Few lead meaningful lives in their new communities, according to a court-appointed consultant. They have little say over where they live, or with whom. Medical care can be sketchy. Often, group homes and adult foster homes don’t hire enough caregivers or don’t adequately train the ones they employ. Residents are dispersed across the state, sometimes far from family members or others who might keep watch over their treatment. If disabled people were simply warehoused in state hospitals, as their advocates often asserted, now it is as if they have been placed in small, isolated storage units that easily elude attention.
Most ominously, residents of many group homes have encountered similar patterns of mistreatment that plagued the state hospitals.
At least three-fourths of the facilities have been cited for violating standards of care or have been investigated over patient deaths or abuse and neglect reports since 2010. Officials have documented 76 reports of physical or psychological abuse, 48 of neglect, and 60 accidental injuries. In 93 other cases, group home residents allegedly assaulted one another, their caregivers or others.
Also, back during the Great Recession, the state of Georgia began closing multiple state prisons around the Central State campus.
First up was Rivers State Prison in the summer of 2008, which put roughly 300 people out of work. Then came Scott State Prison in the summer of 2009, which equaled another 250-300 job losses. Bostick Prison then closed in 2010 and Men's State Prison the following year.
It almost became surreal. Right when it seemed as if nothing else could possibly go wrong, something else went wrong. The Bill E. Ireland Youth Detention Center, located across from Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin closed down in early 2010, and 300 more people were out of work.
With such a seemingly unbelievable number of facility closings in such a short amount of time, a villain was needed. Some people around town blamed Sonny Perdue, the governor at the time, who supposedly "had it out for Milledgeville." All of that is conjecture, however, and who really knows?
The deep job losses during this time were reflected in Baldwin County's 2012 Area Labor Profile, relative to the county's 2002 Area Labor Profile. In 2002, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, Baldwin County had 5,925 "state government jobs," which represented 30.6 percent of all of jobs in Baldwin County. Back at this time, Baldwin and Clarke counties always ran neck-and-neck for the highest percentage of state government jobs among Georgia's 159 counties, with Clarke County being home to the University of Georgia.
Fast forward 10 years to 2012, when Baldwin County was listed with 3,550 state jobs, a net loss of 2,375 state jobs from 2002.
Another 250-300 state jobs would be eliminated the following year in 2013, when the Craig Nursing Center closed down, and the very last of Central State's developmentally disabled clients were moved into "community settings."