Tackling mental health head-on in Collier County

Collier County is tackling the mental health crisis head-on.

On Wednesday, after a year of research and planning, leading experts from local treatment centers, law enforcement, the courts, and other organizations, presented the details of a wide-reaching mental health plan to Collier County commissioners.

WINK first told you about the county’s initial efforts to address the epidemic in February.

A top priority in the plan is a major expansion of the David Lawrence Center, the county’s only publicly funded facility to receive patients hospitalized under the Baker Act when a person is considered a threat to themselves or others.

The David Lawrence Center is consistently overwhelmed with too many patients, not enough beds. In fact, the latest figures show about a third of all patients that meet Baker Act criteria – and that includes many children – had to be sent to other counties. The planned expansion, a new 55,000-square-foot, $25 million facility, will help with the overflow.

Experts say, without treatment, they often end up in jail, so another priority of the plan is to look at ways to better address the revolving door of the justice system.

When they get released, some who are suffering from chronic illness or addiction or both may have nowhere to go, so supporting stable housing initiatives is also an element of the plan.

In 2018, Collier County Sheriff’s Office received 14,617 calls for service related to mental illness or drug addiction. The agency also spent more than $2.5 million last fiscal year on mentally ill inmates last year, and that is just for medical costs and supervision. Sheriff Kevin Rambosk expects this targeted plan will help make a difference.

“You have put together a community-based effort that everyone is looking to buy into, that everyone is willing to support that will change the face of Collier County from cost and for safety,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk of Collier County Sheriff’s Office, speaking to the team of experts at the meeting.

Judge Janeice Martin, who runs Collier County’s Mental Health, Drug and Veteran Courts, agreed.

“There is no corner of the courthouse where persons who are suffering are not finding themselves in front of a judge,” said Judge Martin, noting she has found success moving defendants with mental health struggles from jail to treatment through these specialized courts.

The county’s veteran population, many of whom returned to civilian life with the invisible wounds of war, are also receiving special consideration in the plan.

“These veterans returning home from today’s wars are unique from past wars,” said Dale Mullin of Wounded Warriors of Collier County.

In addition to initiatives to address the crisis, experts pointed to the importance of education and prevention, ranging from the creation of public service announcements to app-based resources.

And with mental health and drug addiction having such a broad impact across the spectrum, the plan includes an effort to have all agencies share information so they can make decisions based on data, not just ideas.

Commissioner Andy Solis, who spearheaded this mental health initiative, said the plan is a big step and he hopes it will serve as a template for the rest of the state.

“It’s a pivotal moment in Collier County history,” said Commissioner Andy Solis.
Collier Commissioners are expected to vote on the plan by year’s end. If adopted, it will go into effect by 2021.

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