Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mental Health Providers Decry State Funding | System Serves Only a Fraction of Those in Need, They Say

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mental Health Providers Decry State Funding | System Serves Only a Fraction of Those in Need, They Say

Article excerpt

LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS PANEL DISCUSSION

Thanks to a legislative priority of tax cuts over social services, the state-funded mental health system is capable of serving only a fraction of the estimated 4 million Floridians with mental health challenges, primarily those with severe and persistent illnesses who are in crisis.

That was the takeaway message from a panel discussion Monday hosted by the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County, during which representatives from three local mental health providers -- Jack Minge, president and CEO of Coastal Behavioral Healthcare; Phillip "P.J." Brooks, a licensed mental health counselor with First Step of Sarasota; and Ken Alexander, executive director of Bayside Center for Behavioral Health at Sarasota Memorial Hospital -- discussed their challenges in meeting the mental health and substance-abuse treatment needs of the local community.

"Oftentimes, we are the receiver of last resort," acknowledged Brooks. "It's not often that we get what I call 'the worried well.'"

According to a report on mental health spending compiled by the Florida Association of Managing Entities for 2014-2015, more than 36 percent of adult mental health funding in the state is spent on crisis intervention, while just 0.03 percent is spent on prevention and only 13.7 percent on recovery support.

That emphasis is dictated by Medicaid funding that has not increased over the past 15 years, said Minge, despite a substantial increase in the state's population. According to the most recent statistics, Florida ranks second to last among the nation's states and the District of Columbia in per capita funding dedicated to mental health. The $37.49 it spends per resident represents just 30 percent of the national average of $124.99 per individual. Put another way, for every dollar Florida spends on mental health services, states on the whole spent $4. …

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