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13WMAZ's interview on River Edge Behavioral Health's focus on those with mental illnesses, disabilities for Census

Dr. Shannon Gordon, River Edge CEO, says they serve those that are the hardest to count.

Author: Ashlyn Webb (WMAZ)

Published: 6:16 AM EST January 27, 2020

Updated: 6:16 AM EST January 27, 2020

MACON, Ga. — River Edge Behavioral Health Center is stepping up efforts to make sure everyone is counted in the upcoming census.

Hallway after hallway, words of inspiration line the walls, telling everyone that their voice matters.

"You matter. You count. It's just a natural extension to say the Census is about counting every person, one time, in the right place. So remember you count, so it's important for you to participate," said Dr. Shannon Gordon, the CEO of River Edge Behavioral Health Center. 

Gordon says the people they serve are the hardest to count and are often skeptical about how their data from the Census could be used.

"Paranoia is a part of that, so letting them know that participation in the Census is very safe," Gordon said. 

For patients, River Edge is a trusted voice.

"So by us having that trust, and them coming to us, we're hoping more and more can be counted, and they don't hide from what might happen if they are counted," said Greta O'Dell, director of developmental disabilities at River Edge.

In addition, Gordon says the homeless are hard to get a count on. 

"When you're focused on survival just for today, it's hard to think about things like civic participation," Gordon said.

Mariah Stanfield has been homeless off and on for the past four years, but says she'll be participating in the Census. 

"We can be helping out so much more and giving money to programs that need the help. People out here," Stanfield said, pointing to other homeless people in downtown Macon. 

Now, River Edge is using their role in the community to count as many as possible. 

"In every prescription bag is a reminder to participate in the Census," Gordon said. "Our IT Department is making sure that there's computer access at all sites for Census participation."

Last Christmas, their float highlighted that. Many people held up hand flyers that said "#everyoneiscounted" or "#youmatter."

O'Dell says this is a mission they're sticking with. 

"Your count is a dollar amount that we want to bring to our community, so we can help serve you and your neighbor and everyone else," O'Dell said. 

The center says they'll continue to work to overcome barriers for those hard-to-count groups like literacy challenges, cognitive barriers, and access to computers.