OUR VIEW: Mental health care in Florida is a disgrace.
The following was an article that ran in the Charlotte Sun on Sunday, October 13, 2013
For months, John Doe, not his real name, spent more time in the Charlotte County jail than he did in his home.
He had six arrests in 18 months — each time he served a short sentence, got out and got in trouble again. His transgressions included incidents like going to the Town Center mall, freaking out and pushing a security guard. He was referred to the Charlotte County Behavioral Health Center through the courts, diagnosed as schizophrenic and put on a prescription. For two years now, he has had no arrests. That is an example that Jay Glynn, CEO of the health center, gives as how the state has its priorities reversed. Florida has closed all but three of its state mental hospitals in the past decade — a knee-jerk decision made after a costly lawsuit involving a patient at the now-shuttered G. Pierce Wood mental health facility in DeSoto County. The state, citing budget concerns among other excuses, planned to treat those needing mental health care with certified teams doing outpatient care in each community. It hasn’t worked. Until this year, when funding remained stable, the state has cut money invested in mental health care in every budget since the move to eliminate mental hospitals began. Florida ranks a shameful 49th in mental health care*spending per capita in the United States. The result has been a nightmare for local law enforcement and a burden on county jails. In Charlotte County, 199 out of 700 inmates have been diagnosed with mental health issues. “Our jails are turning into mental health facilities,” Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell said. In Sarasota County, the jail population averaged 972 inmates a day and 307 of those needed prescription medication related to a mental health diagnosis in the month of September.
The Florida Department of Corrections denies the problem is getting any worse. Statistics on state prisons*for the past five years are relatively steady, hovering around 18 percent of prisoners being diagnosed with serious mental health issues. We believe the state is being bull-headed and is just plain wrong in its approach. Glynn pointed out that outpatient care costs about $2,400 a year for most offenders who have mental health issues. Compare that to a cost of $52,000 a year to keep them in jail and $112,000 to treat them in a mental health facility.
Florida is facing a class action suit that charges there are at least 300 patients in the remaining mental health hospitals that should be discharged — but they are being kept because there is no place to put them. With no home or family they would be left to roam the streets, homeless.
Charlotte and Sarasota counties have taken progressive steps by forming drug and mental health courts that provide some relief from warehousing mentally ill in jails. It is an approach that the state should carefully examine and embrace.
In Florida, the mentally unstable are too often left to find their own cure or opt for shelter in local jails. State lawmakers need to get their heads out of the sand and wake up to a history of neglecting the mentally ill.* kff.org State By Indicator Data from SMHA * Florida Department of Corrections 2011-2012 Agency Statistics Inmates Suffering from Mental Disorders