The Citrus County Hospital Board and Citrus County Commission continue to hammer out an agreement that will allow for the county to own a Baker Act facility now that the community’s mental health care provider is no longer playing a role in its construction.
The decision by the county commission and Citrus County Hospital Board to part ways with LifeStream Behavioral Center in building an emergency mental health evaluation center came after the county commission, along with the hospital board, could not agree with LifeStream as to the facility’s ownership after it’s built. LifeStream leadership wanted LifeStream to own the facility.
If the 40-bed facility is built, the county will almost certainly ask LifeStream to lease and operate it. The ownership of the Baker Act facility does not end the county’s relationship with LifeStream as being the nonprofit that provides mental health care and additional service to Citrus.
Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle
In late March the county commission and hospital board agreed to have their attorneys write a proposed contract to replace the one the county commission no longer were considering with LifeStream.
Hospital board lawyer Bill Grant told the Chronicle he and county commission attorney Denise Dymond Lyn will have a proposal ready for review soon and ready for the hospital board members to consider when they meet again in late June.
The draft, proposed contract includes:
A five-year-contract between Citrus and Hernando counties for the construction of the Baker Act facility and utilizing the facility for residents from each of the two counties.
The Citrus County Hospital Board is contributing $4 million toward the project. The Hernando County Commission will contribute $2 million.
The Citrus County Commission is overseeing permit applications for construction and later allowing Hernando County and hospital board representatives on the property to ensure that it is being utilized for its intended purpose.
If all the necessary funds aren’t available and construction hasn’t yet begun by Dec. 31, 2024, the contract terminates and the monies are returned.
The proposed site for the facility will be on a 10-acre area now home to the Citrus County jail.
In addition to the financial commitment from the hospital board and Hernando County, the Florida Legislature has also pledged $2 million toward the project, unless it is vetoed by Gov. DeSantis later this month or in June.
But hospital board Bill Grant said given the rising costs of construction since county called for a Baker Act facility for the county, the proposed Baker Act facility will likely cost more than the $8 million than Citrus and Hernando counties and the hospital board, and the Legislature, are immediately willing to contribute.
Grant said that will leave the interested parties to contribute more, or maybe the county selling bonds to raise money and fill the breach.
In addition, some hospital board members want the Baker Act facility built in a way that would allow for additions later. They also are calling for the facility to operate in a way that it will not need additional financial subsidies, but rather pay its own way..
One way to do that is to lease the facility to LifeStream at a rate that enables the county to pay off its bond debt, but leaves operations to the mental health care provider, Grant said.
There is some good news for drumming up money for the project, though.
Although it was LifeStream that originally petitioned state lawmakers for money to help build a Baker Act facility, the county could accept the money now that LifeStream is no longer part of the financing and construction aspect of the project.
In an email from Adele Hembree, legislative aide for Florida Rep. Ralph Massullo, Hembree wrote Bill Grant that the funding would still have to be utilized for the Citrus County receiving facility capital outlay project, regardless of who owns it.
“As you are aware the project was submitted by LifeStream and that could not be changed at the point at which the county indicated it wanted to build/own the building. Discussions with appropriations staff assured us this wouldn’t be an issue. This is all of course if the project survives veto,” she wrote.
The Baker Act is a Florida law that enables families and loved ones to request emergency mental health services for an individual. That typically involves the temporary detention for the person who is impaired because of their mental illness.
The Baker Act law allows for adults and children to be committed for as long as 72 hours involuntarily for a mental health evaluation.
Currently, Citrus County residents are sent to LifeStream’s Baker Act facility in Leesburg for evaluation. Citrus County has no Baker Act facility of its own, only a preliminary evaluation facility.
The hospital board owns HCA Florida Citrus Hospital and leases it to Hospital Corporation of America.
Grant said he wants state lawmakers to understand “there is a need” for Baker Act services here, and the county is doing “everything we can to address it.”
Building a Baker Act facility would also help the county and LifeStream to work on the county’s problem of being “grossly understaffed” when it comes to psychiatrists and especially pediatric psychiatrists.
“Psychiatric care does not start at 30,” he said, but rather is often needed when the person needing help is much younger.