• 9 Investigates: Amid crisis, Central Florida braces for cuts to mental health services

    By: Chris Heath


    ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Orange County resident Selma Frett has lost count of the number of times her brother has been sent for involuntary committed for mental issues. 

    Frett is one of the thousands of people across Central Florida bracing for what is expected to be a series of deep cuts to mental health services as a result of state and federal drops in funding.

    “We are going to see a reduction in the ability to serve somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 people a year as a result of those cuts,” said Todd Dixon of Aspire Health Partners which is bracing for a $2.7 million cut.  “There will also be a reduction of 60 to 65 employees, what we are doing now is we are freezing all new employment, so we can allow existing employees to transfer to open positions.”

    The effect on Aspire Health Partners across Orange, Seminole, Osceola, and Brevard Counties includes a cut of $1 million to the Central Receiving Center, which serves as a diversion, treating patients rather than sending them to jail. 

    The cut at the CRC represents a reduction of about 40% of the money it had been receiving from the state, money state leaders cut from the budget.

    “Law enforcement will continue to use the CRC, but the resources on the other end will not be as fruitful as it has been,” said Donna Wyche, who heads Mental Health and Homeless Issues for Orange County. “We are planning, we are trying to do everything we can to make the system work for those vulnerable folks.”

    Orange County plans to keep its current level of funding in place, but admits the reduction by the state will impact the operation at the CRC. 

    County leaders caution, this will lead to shorter stays at the CRC and more people inadvertently ending up in jail, at an increased cost to taxpayers.

    “We’re going to continue to take those patients from law enforcement, but having 20 beds less and 10 fewer detox beds, people will be staying there for less time,” Wyche said.

    “We are not addressing the basic need, we’re not keeping up with the growth in this state, and if you say we’re behind the 8-ball, we’re not even on the table anymore,” Dixon said.

    Making matters worse for the county, a federal grant recently expired and was not replaced by the state. 

    The $20 million grant provided $1,626,000 for mental health services in Central Florida.

    “Last year we had such an uptick in requests for help,” said Candice Crawford of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida.  “We jumped from 2,400 assists last year, to 4,200 this year.”

    Mental health association across the state, like Crawford’s, are bracing for the fallout from the state cuts and vanishing federal funds.

    Late Tuesday, in a statement to 9 Investigates, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs addressed the cuts to mental health funding, writing in part:

    “Through our Youth Mental Health Commission, the CRC, our hospital and treatment partners and others, we are working to help people become healthy and reach their full potential. But we can’t do it alone. State and federal funding is absolutely crucial to this effort – we need more resources, not less. Knowing that virtually every family, every workplace, and every circle of friends has been touched by mental illness, we must do more than simply maintain the status quo. Together we must grow our resources, and embrace an entirely new and holistic approach to impacting mental illness.”

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