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Advancing Mental Health Care Access for Floridians 


This article appeared as an opinion piece in the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel

By Mary Mayhew, FHA President and CEO

Our nation is facing a mental health crisis. It’s no longer something we don’t talk about. It’s now a concern felt in every community across America.

Teachers witness it in the classroom, where it is impacting students’ ability to learn and grow.

Law enforcement officers are encountering individuals in mental health crises on the streets, who often lack access to medications and stable housing.

Hospital emergency rooms are on the front lines, seeing the harsh reality of so many children and adults who need crisis care, which is often a reflection of the care they are not able to access in their communities.

According to Mental Health America, here in Florida, more than 2.9 million adults have experienced a mental illness. Of them, more than half are not receiving treatment.

For many, it’s not that they won’t seek treatment; they cannot access it. Like the rest of the nation, the Sunshine State is experiencing a serious shortage of behavioral health providers. We do not have enough to meet the growing demand for services. Mental health crises do not only occur during regular office hours, and the closure of massive state institutions decades ago did not mean that the individuals in need of care went away.

Too often, individuals with mental illness have preventable chronic diseases that are not being effectively managed because of a lack of coordinated care. With dignity and compassion, our system of care must meet children and adults where they are with the care they need. To that end, hospitals support these vital services and partner with community organizations to establish and enhance important wrap-around behavioral and social services that are person-centered.

We want children to be happy, healthy, thriving and successful in school. We want adults to be supported with effective services that promote community engagement, well-being and recovery.

The good news is that Florida is doing something about it. In partnership with community organizations and our state leaders, Florida hospitals are working to increase access to services, grow our workforce and support the Floridians who need help the most.

Numerous Florida hospitals provide inpatient psychiatric care and outpatient treatment for mental health and substance use disorder. Many hospitals are supporting an array of community-based behavioral health services to support the full continuum of care.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have been shining a bright spotlight on the issue of mental health and have been charting a course forward to increase resources to improve Florida’s system of care. Recently, the state increased support for mobile crisis response teams to further deploy trained professionals when people have a mental health crisis. In many instances, these teams de-escalate the situation and avoid a hospital admission.

Another strong signal of the state’s commitment to mental health, included this year in the Legislature’s groundbreaking Live Healthy legislation, is the establishment of state- designated behavioral health teaching hospitals. This initiative demonstrates a long- term commitment to growing our behavioral health workforce. Today, Florida has a ratio of one provider to 550 individuals. Massachusetts has the top ratio in the country for the behavioral workforce, with a ratio of 1 provider to 140.

This past session, the Florida Legislature displayed leadership to streamline processes and support timely access to high-quality treatment. We are incredibly grateful for the state’s leadership and all the behavioral health providers who strive to provide comprehensive person-centered care at the right time and in the right setting with the best outcomes.

As demand for mental health and substance use disorder treatment continues to skyrocket in our state and country, we must continue to drive progress and advance solutions that demonstrate a commitment to human dignity, compassionate and comprehensive care, and a modern system of behavioral health based on the latest standards of care and treatment.

This month marks Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to encourage individuals struggling to seek help. Florida’s hospitals, in partnership with community organizations and leaders in the Florida Legislature, are actively working to ensure those who need behavioral health services can access them.

Greater access to high-quality care — for both the body and the mind — offers Floridians hope for a brighter future.
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