BY JENNIFER CABRERA
At the end of the line : The county commission voted to move forward with a brick-and-mortar central mental health intake facility, co-located with Meridian Behavioral Health Services. They’ve budgeted $500,000 from their general fund plus $1.5 million in ARPA funds, and they’re asking the City of Gainesville to also increase their contribution from $250,000 to $500,000. They hope a central receiving facility will improve the experience for residents struggling with mental health issues who are often brought to jail due to a lack of other immediate options in a crisis.
At their May 10 regular meeting, the Alachua County Commission discussed options for a central reception system for Alachua County.
Deputy County Executive Carl Smart said staff considered a stand-alone system in their own building, a virtual triage system, and collocating the county program with an existing crisis stabilization unit.
Stuart Wegener, criminal justice liaison with the Department of Court Services, said the motion from the county commission in August 2021 was as follows: 1) Staff should lead and organize funding moving forward with the idea of a central reception center (CRF); 2) Authorize the President to send a letter of invitation to the City of Gainesville and hospitals in the region to participate in the program operationally and financially; 3) Develop plans for an operational and oversight entity of the FRC; 4) Work with Meridian to produce a 3-5 year plan that shows partners and funding sources with the goal that this can be sustainable without ongoing allocations from the county general fund. Wegener said staff turned to the Alachua County Public Safety Coordinating Council (PSCC) to help gather facts and develop ideas, because PSCC’s goal is to explore ways to reduce the prison burden, and a CRF helps combat overuse. prison and relieves the existing system of crisis services through a coordinated care system. Staff then established a PSCC sub-committee that included PSCC members and community stakeholders.
David Johnson, program manager for the county’s Justice and Mental Health Collaborative Grants Program, said staff do not recommend the virtual triage option, which would involve “using [iPads] basically in the back of police cars to connect people in crisis directly to a mental health therapist. He said it could be a complementary program to a CRC, but staff focused on stand-alone and co-located options. He said a CRF that is on-site in a Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) would reduce transportation costs, as patients would simply walk through a door if staff decided CSU was the best option for them. However, the existing CSUs are not centrally located in the county or the city of Gainesville. He said agreements would also be needed with other receiving facilities, such as partner hospitals, regarding patient transfers.
Johnson said a stand-alone facility would be very difficult to achieve because it would have to be a quasi-hospital facility with “very significant capital requirements”. He said the operational costs would also be double the operational costs of a co-located facility. It would also be difficult to obtain a license for the facility before it is built, which would increase the risk. So, he said, they don’t think a stand-alone facility “is the feasible or responsible route, because of the cost, the time it would take, and the uncertainty of being able to get it up and running.”
Alachua County and the City of Gainesville have committed $250,000 to the effort, and a legislative request is in the budget awaiting the governor’s signature. The institution may be able to access other state grants through Florida Lutheran Services.
Commissioner Mary Alford (who has since resigned) said she “would love to have this up and running as soon as possible”, but with rising prices and supply chain issues for building materials, “I’m really concerned about the delay of any new construction…we’ve been talking about this for years…and now we’re in a place where it’s absolutely the worst time [in decades] do construction. »
“I spoke to a mother yesterday whose son has been brought back to jail yet again, who has been in jail about 20 times and who has a diagnosed behavioral health issue that almost never gets treated because they have to continually dealing with the substance abuse issue that often goes hand in hand with other behavioral health issues, and so, you know, this mother has been doing this for 22 years, something that I can relate to, and the frustration in the community is high – Commissioner Mary Alford
Alford said she preferred a stand-alone facility, “nothing against Meridian. I just feel like…well, I know the patients I’ve treated…almost everyone would prefer this be a standalone facility because of the trauma inflicted on people who go through the system… If someone says they’ve been to Meridian, that’s a stigma they don’t want… We need to do this ASAP I don’t care what the cheapest thing is right now… Yesterday I spoke to a mother whose son has been sent back to prison again, who has been in prison about 20 times and has a health problem behavioral problem that is almost never treated because they have to continually deal with the substance abuse problem that often goes hand in hand with other behavioral health issues, and so, you know, this mother has been doing this for 22 years, something I can relate to, and the frustration in the community is high.”
Alford said if a virtual triage system could be effective “for certain audiences,” she would favor doing it sooner rather than later.
Commissioner Anna Prizzia pointed out that building and certifying a stand-alone facility could take years. She said the “best and most efficient option” would be to co-locate the facility with Meridian. She asked about the budget shortfall and Smart said that if the board decides to go ahead with a co-located facility, staff are asking the county to increase their commitment from $250,000 to $500,000 and are asking also the city of Gainesville to do the same.
Commissioner Ken Cornell said mental health needs had increased for all ages during COVID, so he believed the facility was an appropriate use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. He introduced a motion to implement a CRF as a physical campus, co-located with a Crisis Stabilization Unit, specifically Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. The second part of the motion was to increase county funding from $250,000 to $500,000 and to ask the City of Gainesville to do the same. The third part was for staff to bring back a source of funding, including determining if ARPA funds can be used for this purpose.
County Executive Michele Lieberman told the board that she previously set aside $250,000 to build the facility, along with $1.5 million in ARPA funds to help pay for operations for a few months. years. She said the county had not designated a source of funding for operations once ARPA money ran out, but that ARPA money could be transferred to capital to get the facility built.
A community advisory board is currently being negotiated, but currently consists of representatives from Meridian, North Florida Regional Medical Center, UF Health Vista, a county commissioner, the state’s attorney, the public defender, the mayor of Gainesville, the chief of police, and the sheriff.
The motion is adopted unanimously.