Collier County officials take steps to make mental health a ‘top priority’

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David Lawrence Center

Florida ranks last on the list when it comes to spending for mental health care, but Collier County is working on wide reaching plan, that will make it a top priority.

“One of the things that surprised me, was that in Collier County we have a strategic plan for virtually everything, from sidewalks and median landscaping to libraries, everything. The only thing we don’t have is a strategic plan for how we deal with our community mental health function,” said Collier County Commissioner Andy Solis.

MOREMental health resources in Southwest Florida

Solis spent his first year in office digging into the factors he says stall mental health treatment, and meeting with those who had touchpoints with the mentally ill, like Judge Janeice Martin who runs Collier County’s Mental Health Court.

“When Commissioner Solis got elected, he said ‘Well, I want to try and understand the issue,” Judge Martin said. “And we kept sort of blowing his mind because every time he thought he got his arms around it, there was more to it.”

MORE: Mental Health court helps break the cycle of ill patients in and out of jail

The issues included jails being forced to house mentally ill, when they really belong in treatment.

Crisis intervention training helps deputies de-escalate confrontations and divert those deemed mentally ill to the David Lawrence Center.

Solis says the issue that arises when patients are sent to the center is they are overwhelmed and often don’t have enough beds.

MOREMental Health facility in Collier County overrun with influx of patients

“David Lawrence Center only has 30 beds for our community mental health function. That means we have a total capacity of 30 beds for almost 400,000 people in Collier County. Do the math and you realize immediately that it’s not enough. So we end up holding these people for a certain amount of time and then releasing them,” Solis said.

The need for more room, means the planned $25-million dollar expansion can’t come soon enough. In the meantime, Collier Commissioners are working with a team of experts to develop a strategic plan for mental health.

Solis wants the county to collect information from law enforcement, the courts, and others to make decisions based on data, and not just ideas.

The Mental Health committee will present its plan to Collier Commissioners in June with hopes of finalizing a plan by year’s end.







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