While some are hailing the Governor’s recent pledge to put more money into Florida’s mental health and substance abuse programs, others are calling it “long overdue.”
Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) says she was very happy to hear the Governor wanted to put $19 million towards helping Floridians with mental illness and substance abuse issues.
“I was absolutely delighted to see that he was putting that in his budget,” said Harrell. “As you know over the last year, we have started moving forward in reforming our entire mental health and substance abuse system.”
Harrell is working legislatively with Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) on reforming the system. As head of the House Judiciary Committee, McBurney is working on the criminal justice side—while Harrell’s in charge of service.
“We have found that the system itself is not compartmentalized,” added Harrell. “And it is not working together…when you have so many people in the criminal justice system who really need to get that mental health treatment in order to stay out of the criminal justice system, I think it’s time to step forward and put some additional funding into that. As we did our child welfare reform over the last two or three years, we have really identified mental health and substance abuse and domestic violence as the key drivers to much of the problems that we’ve had in our child welfare system.”
Dr. Rajiv Tandon, a practicing psychiatrist in Gainesville, is the President of the Florida Chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, or NAMI. He says while the Governor’s pledge is encouraging, he called it “long overdue.”
“The $19 million that the Governor has asked for is a very small amount in terms of the need, if you will,” said Tandon. “But, I think the recognition that our mental health system is broken in the state, that it really needs to be fixed, and reform needs to happen at multiple levels and it will really take significantly better funding, I think, has been well recognized.”
Part of the Governor’s proposal works hand-in-hand with an Executive Order that includes pilot projects in a few of Florida’s counties aimed at reviewing services on a local level.
It also includes about 13 million for community behavioral health services as well as money for more Community Action Treatment teams. Also known as CAT teams, they serve youth who are at risk because of significant mental health and substance abuse issues. Tandon says he really appreciates that the Governor is recognizing the importance of services at a community level.
“Almost $4 million is to support 5 traditional CAT [Community Action Treatment] teams,” added Tandon. “And, some additional money to support Family Intensive Treatment [FIT] Teams, which are for children in the child welfare system who are at risk because of parental substance abuse issues. So, it’s a small amount of money, but the more important thing is the recognition of the problem.”
He says the funding challenge is huge, adding that Florida ranks 49th in the country in terms of per Capita mental health funding.
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