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Lehigh Acres hospital builds mental health center for SWFL patients

Nonprofit Mental Health America ranked states based on access to behavioral health services. And based on its research the Sunshine State ranks 43 of 51 for most access.

So we looked into what a hospital in Southwest Florida is doing to address the issue of access to mental health care in Southwest Florida. And we spoke to someone who is a patient and advocate for adding mental health services in the area.

Lehigh Regional Medical Center is undergoing construction to provide mental health services by adding a new behavioral health center in its facility.

“Depression is a significant issue affecting the aging population,” CEO Gary Bell said. “Hopefully, we will help those people.”

Christina Devault personally knows the toll mental illness can take on an individual.

“It runs in my family,” Devault said.

Devault is a patient herself.

“I’ve been dealing with mental illness for half of my life,” Devault said.

Devault advocates for access to mental health care in Southwest Florida.

And this is a challenge the hospital in Lehigh is also taking on.

“We’re going to dedicate an entire floor of the hospital for that purpose,” CEO Gary Bell said.

When the outpatient center is completed, it will have 35 beds and feature group therapy, art therapy and drug and alcohol education. All the services will be provided specifically for people 55 and older.

“What we’re noticing is that younger people don’t have the stigma,” said Linda McKinnon, president of Central Florida Behavioral Health Network.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for people 55 to 64 years old.

McKinnon is working to get more money for services like the ones coming to Lehigh, especially as views on mental illness evolve.

“It is a brain disease,” McKinnon said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed about. We need to fight stigma.”

This is something Bell plans on doing once the center is up and running.

“We believe there’s a significant need,” Bell said.

The plan is to have the center in Lehigh operational by December, and services are not limited to people in Lee County. The hospital said it will take patients from all over Southwest Florida and will also accept Medicare and Medicaid patients.

“It’s a serious issue everywhere that you look,” Devault said. “Mental health should be a right, not a privilege.”

Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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