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Georgia families struggling with access to mental healthcare will soon see changes

With the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act, insurers are required to provide equal coverage for behavioral health care.

ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers promised to make mental health a top priority this session and advocates say they delivered. 

For more than a year, 11Alive's investigative #Keeping series exposed gaps in Georgia's mental health care system that caused thousands of children to be surrendered to state custody. Reveal investigator Rebecca Lindstrom has shared their stories. These are families with children that have severe emotional, developmental or behavioral issues that keep getting denied care. 

With the passage of the Mental Health Parity Act, insurers are required to provide equal coverage for behavioral health care.

The new budget allows 500 people to get what’s called a 'NOW or COMP' waiver. Those waivers help people like Kayleigh who lose important services after they turn 18. There are 7,000 people currently on the waiting list for those waivers, which pay for services to keep someone out of a nursing home or mental health hospital.

"It’s been such a long walk to get here, you’re almost numb to it. We’ve been talking the talk and now we’re walking the walk," Kayleigh's mom Christina Henry said.  

Another bill that passed outlines how the state will help police departments team up with mental health workers when responding to 911 calls. The goal is to decide who needs to go to jail and who needs treatment. 

Forsyth County said its specialized team responded to 381 calls last year –  only three of those ended in an arrest.

A number of study committees also passed ranging from how much a therapist should get paid to why kids keep falling through the cracks. Those reports will likely keep mental and behavioral health a focus in next year’s legislative session.