Lifestream Hope and Recovery Center

The Hope and Recovery Center in Leesburg is a Baker Act facility operated by Lifestream Behavioral Center.

LifeStream Behavioral Center officials laid out their timeline this week to provide mental health and addiction services in Citrus County, telling local health care leaders that the Leesburg-based company has begun hiring staff and providing family intervention services.

Rick Hankey, LifeStream’s executive vice president, told a group of about 75 people involved in providing social services in Citrus County that LifeStream plans by Nov. 5 to provide all the county’s acute-care services, such as Baker Acts.

Hankey also said that by Nov. 19 LifeStream will provide all the county’s outpatient services. Hankey also announced LifeStream’s plan to have a Baker Act facility operating in Citrus County in three years. 

The move into Citrus County began earlier this summer when community leaders decided to end the county’s contract with The Centers for providing mental health and addiction treatment services here. The state selected LifeStream to take its place in a $2.6 million annual contract with the nonprofit.

Lutheran Services oversaw the switch and contracts with service providers on behalf of the state in placing those providers in counties wanting mental-health and substance-abuse services.

The transition date from The Centers to LifeStream was Oct. 1, but both organizations said it will take more time to ensure that moving services is seamless for patients.

Hankey said that LifeStream has hired six people thus far, but the goal is to have 50-70 employees working for the company in Citrus County.

LifeStream also continues to look for a facility to house its staff and some of its service lines, LifeStream CEO Jon Cherry told the group that gathered at the United Way of Citrus County on Meadowcrest Boulevard near Crystal River.

Cherry's plan is to lease or buy a 5,000-square-foot building as LifeStream’s temporary home here, but eventually find a 25,000-square-foot structure in Citrus County to house LifeStream’s services under one roof.

“Our goal is to really have a campus" for inpatient and outpatient care, Hankey said. “But these things don’t just happen overnight.”

Members of the current LifeStream staff in Citrus County are now focusing on family intervention help through LifeStream’s Family Intervention and Community Action teams, which work with troubled families to help children with mental-health needs and to keep them out of residential mental-health facilities, foster care, and juvenile detention facilities. 

Much of the local push to replace The Centers was that organization’s inability to build a Baker Act facility here.

Currently, Citrus County residents ordered to a three-day acute-care evaluation center are transported by Citrus County sheriff’s officials to either Springbrook Behavioral Hospital in Hernando County or The Centers in Marion County. Citrus County has no facilities of its own that offer Baker Act services,

In 2017, Springbrook accepted 309 Baker Act clients from Citrus County.

The Centers accepted 825 Baker Act clients in 2017. At current rates, The Centers expects to evaluate an estimated 1,020 Baker Act clients this year from Citrus County.

The Baker Act, formally known as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, allows for the involuntary institutionalization and examination of a person. Typically, it’s initiated by law enforcement, a doctor, or mental-health professional. The Baker Act evaluation may last up to 72 hours.

Citrus County officials complained to The Centers that deputies were often taken off their regular duties for hours at a time during transports, often leaving Citrus County communities shorthanded when they needed law enforcement help.

Hankey said his plan is to appeal to the Florida Legislature for the money to build a Baker Act facility in Citrus County.

But until a Baker Act facility is built here, Hankey said that he is working with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office to have its deputies transport Baker Act clients to its Leesburg Baker Act facility. He said the deadline to have patients rerouted to Leesburg is Nov. 5.

Until Citrus County has a Baker Act facility of its own, Hankey said the goal is to have an assessment center here to first determine if the patient needs a Baker Act evaluation. That will reduce the number of Baker Act clients in general and reduce the need for their transport, Hankey said.

Hankey said that The Centers will no longer be paid to take uninsured Baker Act clients from Citrus County once the transition is complete.

Donald Baracskay, CEO and medical director of The Centers, told the Chronicle on Wednesday that it would not be fair to Marion County residents to have Citrus County Baker Act clients brought to Marion County.

“After the varying transition dates all pass, if The Centers served individuals in Citrus County using state funds, it would deprive residents of Marion County the full opportunity to receive care,” Baracskay said in an email to the Chronicle.

“I think all who understand this dynamic can thus appreciate that Marion County residents have expectations for help, just as residents in Citrus County do,” he said. “The short answer is that adults without means need to be taken by the sheriff to LifeStream’s locations.”

The state pays regional mental health care providers to take clients from the counties they serve to their own Baker Act facilities or to facilities they pay for the services, Baracskay said.

“The state has a ‘no-wrong-door’ policy, (though),” he said.  “As such, on the rare occasion that an uninsured individual needs care out of his/her home county, providers will generally do so. There is a difference between “rare” and “repeated,” the latter being the case if the sheriff were to transport to The Centers on a regular basis.” 

Hankey said the goal is also to make sure that when Baker Act clients are released back into the community that LifeStream and other local social service providers help those released with the help they need.

“We want to make sure it’s your system of care, not LifeStream’s system of care,” he told the audience.

The next step is that by Nov. 19, LifeStream also take over outpatient care, Hankey said.

He said that LifeStream is working with The Centers to get information as to the number and treatment of its outpatient clients.

Hankey said the goal is to make the transition a “smooth” one and that he understands the each clients’ case is  “sensitive” and needs good oversight and care.

Hankey said that LifeStream will have a facility to provide services and house its staff before Nov. 19.

The plan is to also create an advisory council made up of local social services providers and community leaders to better identify the needs of the community as well as coordinate other services patients need, such as transportation and housing.

LifeStream provides mental health care and substance abuse treatment in six counties, oversees a $50 million budget and 700 employees, not including its plans for Citrus County.

Cherry said that when all of LifeStream’s service lines are operational, the goal will be to provide medical and other mental health services to former Baker Act clients within seven days.

Hankey said LifeStream is also working to let the public know about services that will be available to them. He said that most people don’t know about mental health and substance abuse programs in their community unless they’ve received them in the past or have a family member who has been served.

Renea Teaster, executive director of the Anti-Drug Coalition of Citrus County, attended the meeting.

She said LifeStream’s timeline for rolling out services was “reasonable.”

She also said that while a Baker Act facility is important, the focus also needs to be on outpatient care and to ensure people who need help get it to avoid the Baker Act route.

Sunshine Arnold, CEO of the Citrus County Abuse Shelter Association (CASA), said that her impression of LifeStream so far has been positive.

“I am very hopeful that LifeStream will come in and be able to provide high-quality services,” she said.

It’s also important that the community of social services providers also invest their time and effort into solving the county’s problems and hold LifeStream accountable to providing quality services to residents here.

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at and 352-397-5914.    

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at or 352-397-5914.

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