Bud­get cuts af­fect­ing some men­tal health ser­vices

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - LOCAL & STATE - By Dustin Wy­att The (Day­tona Beach) News-Jour­nal

As a lo­cal agency con­tin­ues to grap­ple with state fund­ing cuts, it will no longer be able to pro­vide some vi­tal be­hav­ioral health ser­vices, such as med­i­ca­tion man­age­ment, coun­sel­ing and treat­ment, in New Smyrna Beach.

The change, which went into ef­fect Fri­day, re­sulted from an­other tough ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion by Ste­wartMarch­man Act Be­hav­ioral Health­care that will force 400 South­east Vo­lu­sia pa­tients to make their way to Day­tona Beach or DeLand for treat­ment.

While the agency’s rape cri­sis cen­ter in New Smyrna Beach will re­main open, of­fi­cials at Stew­art-March­man said this week that they wish they could have kept more ser­vices in­tact at the fa­cil­ity on 311 N. Orange St. Changes to state fund­ing left them no op­tion.

In May, the agency learned it would lose $2.2 mil­lion for in­mate sub­stance abuse ser­vices. That blow spelled the end to a lo­cal pro­gram de­signed to keep men out of prison. Re­cently, Stew­art-March­man learned that the Florida Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies was shift­ing $500,000 of the agency’s fund­ing away from men­tal health ser­vices and to­ward sub­stance abuse ser­vices.

That fac­tored into Stew­art-March­man’s “chal­leng­ing” de­ci­sion to con­sol­i­date some South­east Vo­lu­sia ser­vices with the Day­tona Beach out­pa­tient clinic on Wil­lis Av­enue.

“It is a bit of a tragedy,” said Rhonda Har­vey, the agency’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. “This stings.”

Read: Stew­art-March­man sent scram­bling by $2.2 mil­lion cut­back in cor­rec­tions fund­ing

Stew­art-March­man isn’t the only health care provider feel­ing the sting from a Leg­is­la­ture that de­votes less and less spend­ing each year to men­tal health, ex­perts say.

“This is an acute prob­lem in Florida,” said Glenn Cur­rier, pro­fes­sor and chair of psy­chi­a­try at the Uni­ver­sity of South Florida’s col­lege of medicine.

As Florida’s pop­u­la­tion has in­creased by 2 mil­lion peo­ple over the past 10 years, the state has seen its men­tal health spend­ing per capita drop 33 per­cent. Over­all, Florida ranks 49th in the coun­try in men­tal health spend­ing per capita, data show.

That data is based on money spent through Florida’s Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Of­fice, man­aged by the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, and doesn’t in­clude ser­vices paid from other sources, in­clud­ing Med­ic­aid or lo­cal funds, on men­tal health pro­grams.

Cur­rier ques­tions the state’s pri­or­i­ties. He said Florida re­lies too heav­ily on cri­sis care, which is de­signed to help peo­ple once they reach their “boil­ing point.” Un­for­tu­nately, “peo­ple can’t get on­go­ing care” to prevent them from get­ting to that level.

Men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties through­out Florida aren’t just in cri­sis mode, he said. They are be­ing “suf­fo­cated.”

New Smyrna Beach’s loss of men­tal health care op­tions joins a list of other ser­vices to aban­don South­east Vo­lu­sia re­cently. In the past year, a Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles of­fice closed and Vo­lu­sia County shut­tered its court­house an­nex.

“We in South­east (Vo­lu­sia) are stepchil­dren,” said Laura Cloer, a re­tired Vo­lu­sia County school district em­ployee. “Tak­ing away ser­vices that are needed for a com­mu­nity that votes and pays taxes is so wrong.”

“It’s a shame,” added New Smyrna Beach Mayor Jim Hath­away. “This part of the county is pretty much left out of the loop.”

To Regis Sloan, who co­or­di­nates a vol­un­teer ef­fort in New Smyrna Beach that helps low-in­come and el­derly res­i­dents, none of the other losses to the city is as dev­as­tat­ing as the de­par­ture of men­tal health ser­vices.

As the co­or­di­na­tor of a min­istry at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, Sloan pro­vides food and as­sis­tance for roughly 200 peo­ple who need a lit­tle boost on rent and power bills. She also helps as many as 30 peo­ple a month af­ford med­i­ca­tion.

Most of them, she said, don’t have trans­porta­tion.

Stew­art-March­man of­fi­cials say they are work­ing to en­sure that pa­tients of the New Smyrna Beach fa­cil­ity have a way to and from their treat­ment now that it’s been re­lo­cated to Day­tona Beach and DeLand.

“We don’t take it lightly that an in­di­vid­ual might not be able to get care be­cause of an ac­cess prob­lem,” Har­vey said. “We will do ev­ery­thing we can to as­sist with that.”

One op­tion: Pro­vide pa­tients with bus passes so they can take Vo­tran, the county’s pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem, to ap­point­ments. But that does lit­tle to quell Sloan’s con­cerns about how much this change could im­pact the re­gion’s poor­est res­i­dents.

“It’s ap­palling that South­east Vo­lu­sia is not go­ing to have any men­tal health fa­cil­ity for peo­ple to go to and re­ceive ap­pro­pri­ate as­sis­tance,” Sloan said, though she un­der­stands that it’s not the agency’s fault. “They are be­tween a rock and a hard place (with fund­ing) and our com­mu­ni­ties suf­fer for it.”

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