Judy Fitzgerald leads the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), overseeing a $1.3 billion annual budget – the sixth-highest among all state agencies – to provide mental-health services and substance-abuse treatment for about 212,000 Georgia residents.

DBHDD manages the state’s psychiatric hospitals, mental-health crisis centers and permanent housing-assistance programs for those with mental and developmental challenges through a network of around 700 local service providers, staff specialists and funding sources.

As DBHDD’s commissioner since 2016, Fitzgerald’s tenure has made strides in boosting the number of people who receive state funds to find permanent housing, a key part of complying with a federal court order to cut down long-term stays at state psychiatric hospitals.

More work lies ahead to keep people with mental-health challenges housed rather than leaving them homeless or jailed, Fitzgerald says. The COVID-19 pandemic has also hit Georgia’s mental-health services hard, gouging staff at hospitals and community services across the state.

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