Friday, November 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Make mental health a budget priority

RECOMMENDED READING


The dismal state of Florida's mental health system is often described in statistics and funding amounts. But behind those figures are human beings and their suffering — adults and children who simply cannot get treatment for psychological disorders, addiction and other problems that only get worse when left unaddressed. The result is suicide, violent crime and broken families. To neglect this gaping need is inhumane, and Florida's leaders must make it a priority even during this tight budget year.

Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano wrote about one family — and there are countless others — whom the system was utterly unequipped to help. Allison and Jeffrey Brown took in their 9-year-old nephew whose mother had died and whose father, Allison's brother, could not care for the boy because of his own mental health and addiction problems. They knew Nicholas was troubled — childhood trauma provides fertile ground for psychological problems to take root. But without the couple, he would have been headed for foster care. With them, he got a loving home, counseling and medication. His problems worsened anyway.

Nicholas acted out sexually, made gestures toward suicide and was rough with his two younger sisters. He was hospitalized four times in the span of six weeks under Florida's Baker Act, which allows people to be committed for up to 72 hours if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. The law has been a lifesaving refuge for many thousands of people in crisis. (Similarly, the Marchman Act provides for the commitment of people at risk of overdosing on harmful substances.) The problem is the lack of services awaiting them when they leave the hospital. In Nicholas' case, once he showed he was not suicidal or delusional, he was discharged back to the Browns, medically stable but still a psychiatric time bomb.

Parents in situations like the Browns' are essentially on their own, with few treatment options available. Not only that, they risk being charged with abandonment if they decide a child is too unstable or violent to bring back home. It amounts to the very opposite of support, which is what these families need. Money and services are the only solutions to this chronic crisis, and Florida is lacking in both. There is simply no substitute for accessible, affordable treatment for mental health problems. Even if money had been no object for the Browns, Allison learned that a $12,000-a-month private center in Orlando had a waiting list. So Nicholas ended up in a group home, where he is getting no help for his mental disorders.

Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, has made mental health a focus. Last year, she helped drive legislation that requires every county to create a localized, coordinated behavioral health care plan that provides immediate access to the right kind of care as well as follow-up services, while emphasizing decriminalization of substance abuse and mental health problems. This year, she has sponsored a bill that would fund those plans. HB 1327 provides budgeted state money to be used as matching funds to draw federal grants. Gov. Rick Scott, in his proposed budget, is seeking a $25 million increase to the annually recurring base budget for mental health and substance abuse. Peters says it should be even more. "We are doing a lot of things," she said, but acknowledged "we've got a long way to go."

Mental illness and, increasingly, addiction are afflictions that leave no population in Florida unscathed. Children like Nicholas, as well as his parents and siblings, cannot navigate the immense challenges of mental illness alone. Accessible, comprehensive treatment beyond hospitalization is the best hope for curbing these problems. Shoring up Florida's chronically underfunded mental health and substance abuse treatment system is a worthy cause that should make it all the way to the governor's desk.

Comments
Editorial: Wage hike for contractorsí labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractorsí labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise ó for every...
Published: 11/16/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Krisemanís new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Krisemanís new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Krisemanís own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trumpís latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included ó along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election ó an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17
Editorial: U.S. should resume processing visas for Cubans

Editorial: U.S. should resume processing visas for Cubans

The health attacks reported on American diplomats in Cuba deserve a serious investigation, and the Cuban governmentís cooperation in the case will ó for better or for worse ó shape the emerging relationship between the two nations. But the Trump admi...
Published: 11/13/17

Another voice: This little-discussed part of the GOP tax bill proves what itís really about

Republicans insist that their tax reform is designed to help the middle class and curb the use of tax loopholes. But a little-discussed provision tells a different story. That provision is the repeal of the alternative minimum tax, which would serve ...
Published: 11/12/17
Updated: 11/13/17
Editorial: Eaganís departure from HART a loss for Tampa Bay

Editorial: Eaganís departure from HART a loss for Tampa Bay

Katharine Eaganís departure as the chief executive of Hillsborough Regional Transit to run the transit agency in Pittsburgh reflects the sorry state of transportation in Tampa Bay. While there recently has been encouraging movement on several fronts,...
Published: 11/09/17

Another voice: Donít get too cocky, Dems

For months, the Virginia gubernatorial race has been seen as a bellwether of the Democratic Partyís capacity to rebound from its stunning loss to Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential contest, and the results were about as good as Democrat...
Published: 11/09/17

Editorial: Remarkable support for Penny for Pinellas

A 55 percent win in any election is a solid victory. Constitutional amendments in Florida must win 60 percent of the vote to be approved. And tax referendums are often hard to pass by any margin. That makes it all the more remarkable that the extensi...
Published: 11/08/17
Updated: 11/10/17
Editorial: Houseís massive tax cuts are not tax reform

Editorial: Houseís massive tax cuts are not tax reform

To hear U.S. House Republicans tell it, their new tax bill would fatten the savings accounts of average Americans and make paying for college a breeze. According to President Donald Trump, rich folks like him would hardly benefit at all. Of course, t...
Published: 11/08/17
Updated: 11/10/17