A new report reveals a scary picture of just how badly Florida has neglected and shortchanged its mentally ill.
An investigation of Florida’s mental health care posted recently on the Florida Supreme Court website falls under the category: Why don’t you tell us something we didn’t know?
The report was the third in a series written by a panel at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis after the February 2019 murders of students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had been under treatment for mental issues and the governor wanted information on why the red flags weren’t found.
If you read the report, the answers are obvious.
Florida has no real system for mental health care. There is no one agency that oversees mental health but a number of departments and bureaus who share responsibilities for different jurisdictions and groups. The poor communication between these agencies — and sometimes no communication at all — makes it challenging, and almost impossible, to produce an accurate profile of their clients.
Making their job even more difficult is the fact Florida ranks 50th among all states in per-person spending for mental health services — spending about $36 per person. The only U.S. jurisdiction spending less is Puerto Rico, where the per capita spending is about $20.
Criticizing Florida’s approach to mental health treatment is a broken record for us. For years we have railed about the lack of money spent to help those who need it. We have criticized the state for its decision years ago to shut down mental health treatment facilities like G. Pierce Wood Memorial Hospital in DeSoto County. While there were legitimate concerns about those facilities, they provided a central location for professionals to treat people and they, mostly, provided a home for so many mentally ill that since have swollen our homeless population.
The latest report from the grand jury that DeSantis convened pointed to the same problems that have plagued Florida for years. There is a lack of services; people who need treatment or evaluation sometimes have to wait days or weeks to see someone. The report called Florida’s mental health treatment services “a mess.”
One of the suggestions that have come out of the report is to form a commission to study mental-health services and make recommendations to the governor and Legislature.
The needs are obvious but if forming a commission can capture the governor’s ear, then we’re all for it. The problem, as we’ve alluded to, is not understanding the problems but getting serious about solving them. Getting serious requires a large infusion of money and Florida has never made that a priority. And now, with the huge budget deficit lawmakers are dealing with to balance the state budget, it is even less likely any help is on the horizon.
We understand the funding challenges. What we don’t understand is how much longer the state can sweep the problem under the rug. As the report said, it is clear “that inadequately addressed mental health issues have the peculiar potential to spiral out over time into criminal acts and violent behavior resulting in serious injury and loss of life.”
Injury, loss of life, more homeless in our communities and families torn apart by an inability to deal with the impact of mental illness. That is a high price to pay for ignoring the plight of those who, through no fault of their own, need our help.