Mental health professionals want an increase in funding for children’s services

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Credit: WINK News.

Children are grasping to understand the new normal brought on by the pandemic.

Golisano Children’s Hospital and providers across the region are reporting high increases in visits to their behavioral health facilities by youth.

At the same time, the area is grappling with a shortage of mental health professionals to help kids in crisis. They also expect a cut in funding which could be disastrous for some families.

To keep this from happening, medical professionals want families in Southwest Florida to write to their legislators to ask for more funds to support mental health services.

“We need families in Southwest Florida to write their legislators. Demand that we increase reimbursement and that we increase support for these services,” said Armando Llechu, chief officer of Hospital Operations and Women and Children’s Services at Lee Health.

At Golisano’s Children Hospital, which is part of Lee Health, visits to their behavioral health facility have grown by 50% compared to last year.

The changes last year were so extreme that it’s affecting children who haven’t had any behavioral issues before, Llechu said.

“A straight-A student, honors, never had an issue, No behavioral problems,” Llechu said. “He told his mother, I think about killing myself at least once a week.”

“It came out of nowhere,” Llechu added.

That story is not unique.

‘”I spoke to another mother whose daughter, whose adolescent daughter is so troubled and so disruptive, that the mother had to leave her job for fear that she would be working and come home to find her daughter not alive,” he said.

Stacey Cook, president and CEO at Saluscare, said they are seeing the same increase in anxiety, depression, substance use and suicidality.

Cook and Dr. Paul Simeone, vice president of Mental and Behavioral Health at Lee Health, presented the need to the local legislative delegation.

“Dr. Simeone and I also presented to the local legislative delegation this year, representing 13 organizations, advocating for a review and increase in Medicare reimbursement rates – which have remained flat for over 20 years and simply do not cover the cost of services,” Cook said. “We also discussed with the delegation our workforce shortage. We can feed this right back into the low reimbursement rates.”

Simeone said mental health has become an unfounded mandate in the state.

LINK: Lee Health Foundation’s ‘Kids Minds Matter’

“We are asked to provide services that we really can’t pay for. And so then the question becomes – so how do you do it,” Simeone said.

At the David Lawrence Center in Collier County, Chief Operating Officer Nancy Dauphinais said the number of children in their crisis unit daily is up 27%.

It can take about eight months to see a behavioral health professional at Golisano Children’s Hospital, said Dr. Emad Salman, vice president of operations at the hospital.

“Prior to COVID, we had a crisis with mental health. There were long lines for people waiting to get access to mental health providers. There was increasing suicide rates. Now, we’ve added on top of it – another epidemic with COVID,” Salman said. “They have lost the structure that they had in their life. Their whole school curriculum was turned upside down in the last year. They are afraid of losing a loved one. They are afraid of losing their future with all of the upheaval that is going on politically in our country.”

If you want to join the letter-writing campaign, you can do so by visiting the contact page for the Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives.



Warning signs to look out for in your child:

  • Isolation or refusal to attend school;
  • Changes in eating habits;
  • Withdrawal from peers or social activities;
  • Withdrawal from extracurricular activities at school or in the community; and/or
  • Reports of bullying, harassment, or intimidation in school, the community, or on social media.

SalusCare has a weekly zoom support group for parents. It’s free and you do not need to be a client. It’s Monday nights at 7. Zoom ID: 975 9545 3712 Password: 488302

SalusCare Emergency Services: 239-275-4242

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255​

Disaster Distress Helpline:​

Parent/Caregiver Guide for Helping Families Cope with COVID-19:​​

Smart Social: Monitor your kids online​

National Association of School Psychologist: School safety and crisis (PDF)

David Lawrence Center website for children

If you or a loved one are struggling, you can find support by visiting resources on the NAMI website.

For a comprehensive list of resources and organizations, you can visit This is My Brave. 

For additional tools, including a treatment locator, you can visit the CDC’s mental health web page. 


FGCU Community Counseling Center

National Alliance on Mental Illness, Collier County

National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry counties

Lee Health – Behavioral Health

Lee Health Foundation’s – ‘Kids Minds Matter’

The National Alliance for Caregiving offers a free handbook
Circle of Care: A Guidebook for Mental Health Caregivers

Collier County Mental Health Court

Lee County Mental Health Court

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Local Support Groups: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help)

Southwest Florida Resource Link–substance-abuse

Stop Now And Plan (SNAP)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Talking to kids about suicide

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