There was plenty of consensus among Citrus County commissioners during their mental health services workshop that there’s a need for a Baker Act facility in the community.
But there was also consensus among the majority of them that they also wanted a lot more explanation about how their contribution to build the facility would be spent, what services the county is now getting, and what other revenues the county’s mental health care provider is getting and how.
During a three hour, Tuesday morning workshop, LifeStream Behavioral Center, which has the contract to provide mental health and drug addiction services to Citrus County, gave commissioners an update about the services it provides now and preparing to provide in the near future.
And what has become a political hot potato, LifeStream CEO Jon Cherry and commissioners also talked about the county’s need for a Baker Act facility and how the $12 million facility can be funded.
More organizations invested in mental health care need to be involved, commissioners agreed.
“I’m not disputing we need a Baker Act (facility),” said Commissioner Rebecca Bays. “(But) everyone is working in silos…The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”
“I think it’s long overdue,” Bays said, asking Cherry for comprehensive information that explains the services LifeStream provides here and the nonprofit’s revenues.
Commission Chairwoman Ruthie Schlabach thanked Cherry and LifeStreams’ vice president Rick Hankey, for their presentations, but also wanted a better explanation as to what services LifeStream provides, where in Citrus County it provides it, how state money is distributed for mental health,and how it gets to LifeStream
“It’s not clear. It’s not transparent,” Schlabach said, holding Lutheran Services Florida Inc. IRS financial report.
“I need to know the numbers …Where we stand and what we need,” she told Cherry during the workshop at the Citrus County Government Building.
Citrus County has no Baker Act facility of its own, but instead Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies have to transport Baker Act residents to Leesburg where LifeStream operates such a stabilization facility.
County officials are working with LifeStream to raise enough money to build a Baker Act facility here. Lutheran Services Florida is a nonprofit organization that receives funding from the Florida Legislature, which then dispenses it to mental health care providers, such as LifeStream. Life Stream, based in Leesburg, provides mental health care to Lake, Citrus, and Sumter counties.
The state pays 75 percent of the mental health care costs here, and Citrus County pays 25 percent, or about $1 million annually.
But Cherry warned that a Baker Act facility in Citrus County would be only one piece of the local mental health program. The program still needs more trained personnel, case managers, and advocates to help clients through the mental health care system, he said.
The county doesn’t have enough psychiatrists for adults or children.
Hankey listed off several mental health care services LifeStream offers Citrus County, such as a children’s 45-day addiction rehabilitation program.
But for those kinds of long-term programs, including Baker Act stays, Citrus County residents would have to travel to Leesburg, he said.
If Citrus County had a Baker Act facility, those kinds of services, including follow-up care, could be provided here, Hankey said.
But government money for behavioral health care is not easy to come by, Hankey said, citing many years that LifeStream received no increase in funding from Lutheran Services.
“There’s no money in behavioral health,” he said.
But Schlabach disagreed, citing submitted IRS nonprofit 990 tax forms for 2021, in which Lutheran Services received more than $250 million from the Legislature to oversee and dispense and LifeStream had an annual budget of $59 million, which included about $12 million in cash reserves.
“There is money in (behavioral health),” Schalbach replied.
But Commissioner Diana Finegan said behavioral health providers need financial buffers for when costs increase or funding doesn’t keep up.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said public mental health providers, such as LifeStream, provide care to anyone who needs it, regardless of ability to pay. And that’s expensive.
But Schlabach snapped back that she hoped he wasn’t suggesting she couldn’t read a nonprofit IRS form and told the two commissioners “I don’t need you to explain that to me.”
In 2020, LifeStream served 1,742 clients, half were between the ages of 26 and 50. LifeStream provided 36,361 services and the operational cost was $4.5 million, according to Hankey.
In 2022, LifeStream served 2,531 clients and provided 56,282 services. The operation’s cost that year was over $7.6 million, according to Hankey.
Cherry told the commissioners his plan is to build a 60- bed Baker Act facility on County Road 491 South, near the College of Central Florida campus. It already has two buildings there on 10 acres.
He said 40 beds would be sufficient for now, but he’s preparing for the future, during which he fears the demand will only rise.
The facility would be for adults, children and geriatric clients kept in separate 10-bed units.
Hernando County has committed $2 million toward the project, as well as Citrus County committing $2 million. The state last year committed $2 million, but that was vetoed by the governor. Cherry will reapply for that money.
It will cost about $5 million to operate the facility if it’s built, but that money will come from LifeStream’s existing budget.
Cherry Told the Chronicle that if LifeStream would receive $6 million from the counties and state, LifeStream would borrow the rest of the $12 million for the facility.
And if it can’t get the $6 million, “then I guess the facility will have to wait.”
Cherry told the commissioners he would return with the information they requested.