Florida Faces a Deepening Crisis

Today at the Capitol thanks to Karen Koch

10:30 am – 12:30 pm:  The major focus for Council staff today will be the House Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or better known at the Capitol as PPACA. Today’s meeting will focus on insurance regulation, what regulations will need to be changed and the role of the Office of Insurance regulation will play in PPACA. America’s Health Insurance Plans and Florida Association of Health Plans will present.  This event is available live on The Florida Channel at http://thefloridachannel.org/.  Attached is the committee packet.

Yesterday at the Capitol

In House Healthy Families Committee Bob Sharpe, John Romano, CEO, New Horizons of the Treasurer Coast and several other state and national experts educated committee members about mental health issues and the need for more treatment and support services for children, adults, and families.  Bob Sharpe provided the committee with a list of statistics demonstrating how poorly Florida ranks in funding treatment services while John Romano outlined Florida’s local community treatment system. Rob Siedlecki outlined the current mental health system of care with a lot of focus on the Baker Act.  Siedlecki briefly discussed the department’s ME initiative and the expectation that more people will be able to be served.  Romano was able to challenge this notion during his testimony but it was difficult to determine if committee members comprehended the full impact of the loss of revenue due to the implementation of MEs. 

An excerpt from The News Services of Florida provides an excellent overview of testimony

“The House Healthy Families Subcommittee Thursday heard from experts that the state can’t wait until the next calamity to act.

“One lesson we learned from these horrific tragedies is that it’s important to continually focus on building and maintaining a mental health system, and not just focus on mental health as a priority after tragedy strikes,” said Charles Curie, former head of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration under President George W. Bush.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, chairwoman of the Healthy Families committee, said she’s seeking recommendations to strengthen the state’s mental health policies, since her panel has little say about the increased funding that providers say they need.

The subcommittee heard from providers, advocates and representatives of the state Departments of Education, Juvenile Justice and Children and Families about the availability of services for Floridians with mental health problems.

The experts agreed the state must find ways to identify people with mental illnesses sooner and divert them from the criminal justice system.

“Florida faces a deepening crisis,” said Bob Sharpe of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health. “We have criminalized mental illness.”

According to Florida Partners in Crisis, serious mental illness occurs in five percent of the general population, but is much more prevalent in the criminal justice system. In jails, 15 percent of men and 31 percent of women are mentally ill; in prisons, 16 percent of men and 24 percent of women are mentally ill.

Florida spends more than $1 billion annually on prison, jail and forensic hospital beds serving state residents with mental illness.

Curie said the deinstitutionalization of people with mental illnesses in the mid- to late-20th century had put many of them on the street or in the criminal justice system. “It wasn’t well done,” he said.

Florida has cut $34 million in funding for mental health services over the last three years.

And Rob Siedlecki, DCF Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health, told the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee this week that the state’s spending on prevention services is “practically zero.”

The panel of experts agreed that early mental health screening and diagnosis could help prevent future tragedies.

“We feel like we are in a race to catch children coming into the system early, before their behavior and their legal cases begin to drive what is done,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters.’

Committees members appeared very interested and every committee member had follow up questions: many that did not get answered due to lack of time.  Council staff will follow up with committee members and will be getting with Council members in their areas to follow up as well. Staff is also preparing recommendation to the committee as requested by Representative Harrell

The Committee was not broadcasted but a Podcast will be available on the House legislative site under Healthy Families Committee. 

Attached is Bob Sharpe’s committee testimony that was not part of the packet yesterday. It contains a thorough review of Florida’s past and present spend on mental health care


Judi Evans, Executive Director
NAMI Florida, Inc

Post Categories: Florida NAMI

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