MENTAL HEALTH

The issue: Mental health services.

Our view: A coalition of support is needed.

The state of Florida provides $3.2 million for LifeStream, a nonprofit, to provide mental health services in Citrus County.

The CEO of LifeStream, John Cherry, believes a county our size needs $10 million to $15 million of services each year.

There’s a large gap between the level of services offered and the need of our citizens.

Lifestream just took over the contract last year and has successfully been reaching out to county residents in need. They have been shocked by the level of response from our underserved community.

Florida is one of the worst states in the nation for providing mental health services as measured by per capita spending. Citrus County is one of the lowest funded counties in Florida. That makes us one of the worst places to live in the nation if you or a family member suffers from a mental health problem.

LifeStream is attempting to step up to the challenge, but they are going to need the assistance of different levels of government and the philanthropic community.

To start, LifeStream has requested the county donate 30 acres of land near the county jail in Lecanto for the construction of a psychiatric facility and possibly a Baker Act complex. The 30-acre tract is now surplus land that has been discussed as a possible site for a future animal control facility.

Citrus County government needs to come to the table and figure out a way to donate this land for mental health purposes or come up with another site that will meet the need of the nonprofit agency they have contracted with to provide this important care.

Our local government must be a stakeholder in developing strategies to address the mental health dilemma in our community. Using surplus county land to locate a complex on would be an easy and inexpensive place to start.

Lifestream’s efforts to use existing buildings close to residential neighborhoods has been met with objections from local communities. Using property next to the county jail is an excellent location because no one wants to be in the county jail.

The second part of LifeStream’s "ask" from the community is for the Citrus County Hospital Board to step up and make a major financial contribution to construct the facility.

The hospital board no longer runs Citrus Memorial Hospital, the medical facility is now leased by HCA, the largest hospital company in America. But the Citrus Hospital Board does have at its disposal millions of dollars it has collected from contracts and agreements that have been litigated since the HCA lease agreement was reached. Attorney Bill Grant and the hospital board deserves recognition for aggressively going after these funds.

The proceeds from the actual lease of the hospital flow to the Citrus County Community Charitable Foundation (CCCCF), which allocates those dollars through an overly complicated grant mechanism to nonprofits servicing our community.

LifeStream is asking both the hospital board the CCCCF to consider providing funds for the purposes of a mental health facility. In leasing the community-owned Citrus Memorial Hospital to HCA, the mandate was that the profits would be used to meet the health care needs of Citrus County. The lack of adequate mental health services is the single greatest health care need that exists here.

We urge both groups to knock down their respective bureaucratic obstacles and become partners in the process of finding solutions to this critical community problem.

Citrus County’s suicide rate is nearly twice the state average. Our Baker Act numbers are much higher than the average. The low per-capita-income in the county makes it almost impossible for many residents to have insurance to pay for mental health services they need.

Progress is finally being made because people are talking about it. The county made the right decision in terminating its mental health contract with The Centers and hiring LifeStream to do the job.

But the job is going to take more resources. We are one of the worst counties in all of America in dealing with mental health issues. It’s going to take a coalition of interests to tackle the problem and a decade of work to get the job done.

It’s time for all of us to get to work.