Early in 1967, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill, which was signed, into law known as Act 310. This landmark legislation established for the first time Regional Mental Health Boards or Authorities to govern the planning and operation of all mental health programs; including, but not limited to, mental illness, developmentally disabled, substance abuse and epilepsy. These authorities, better known as 310 Boards, were designed to be comprehensive planning bodies charged with the responsibility to insure that quality programs were developed to meet existing needs in designated “catchment areas”. The area for which this Board serves is Calhoun and Cleburne Counties.
By nature, the 310 Board represents a broad range of interests, disability groups, programs and responsibilities. Its members were to be citizens who reside in the area and who were to be appointed by the respective supporting governing bodies of the area. Board members were to be interested in the broad spectrum of human services designated under Act 310 law. Although it was recognized that many Board members might have a special interest in specific programs of the Board, the law took precaution to insure that a comprehensive attitude prevailed. Disability groups were to be given consideration in terms of program needs, planning and implementation, as resources dictate. That law was written to prevent specialization in Boards and promote generalization, or better, comprehensive planners. In this way, there would become one vehicle to serve the needs of all groups, and that vehicle became the 310 Authority Board.
Highland Health Systems was organized in July 1967. Since Federal funds were available for the basic mental health programs and facilities, the Board’s first task was to hire an Executive Director and begin actively seeking those funds to acquire a facility and to obtain staff. Over the next two years, from 1968 to 1970, work was accomplished on these grants.
In July 1971, with funds acquired through a National Institute of Mental Health construction grant, the small staff moved from the nurses’ residence where it had been located into a $900,000.00 facility. The completed facility was a culmination of many years of planning and over three years of construction. The new building provided space for not only administrative offices but for group therapy rooms, rooms for counseling sessions, a pharmacy, recreational rooms, sewing rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms, playrooms, and children’s wing with an enclosed play ground.
The year 1972 was a landmark year for the organization. In February the Board of Directors reincorporated from a private non-profit corporation to a public non-profit corporation under the provisions of Act 310. During July of the same year, Highland Health Systems Board received approval and funding from the National Institute of Mental Health for a staffing grant, which enabled the organization to increase its staff to 22 full time employees. The staffing grant was also a culmination of two years intensive work by the Center.
In 1974 the Board was able to develop a program proposal for a comprehensive Children’s Services Grant, which was submitted to the National Institute of Mental Health for funding. This grant was approved and funded thus adding 16 additional staff members to the organization. The Children’s Services Grant allowed for the development of comprehensive children’s services for the catchment area, the first for this region and one of only a few in the entire state.
The organization began to concentrate on providing services to another disability group in the late 1970’s through 1980’s. Comprehensive services for the developmentally disabled were implemented. Today, services for the developmentally disabled consume more than 50% of the total Highland Health Systems budget.
In the latter part of the 1970’s and early 80’s, emphasis was shifted away from a reliance on federal grants to more permanent base of financial support from local governments, the State Department of Mental Health and third party reimbursements. Indeed, The Federal Staffing Grant concept was considered an initiative type of grant to assist with “start up” operations but was to phase out after an eight-year period. Highland Health Systems was able to successfully shift from federal support to other sources of financial support during the 1980’s. The 1990’s brought an end to increases in state and local funding and greater emphasis on third party reimbursements, particularly Medicaid.
Today, over forty years later, Highland Health Systems continues to provide mental health treatment to thousands each year. The vision, “To Those In Need, By Those Who Care,” lives in the many individuals that are served by the organization. The goal and mission has stood the test of time and remains the heart-beat of the Board and staff of Highland Health Systems.