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Mental health center grappling with funding cuts

Posted on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 at 5:20 pm

By Rachel Christian
Staff Writer
Thousands of dollars may be eliminated for mental health services in Osceola County this year.
The looming cuts follow a nearly $1 million reduction in funding imposed by the state Legislature just last year.
The proposed cutbacks would shrink substance abuse and emergency mental health services to one of the county’s biggest facilities.
Park Place Behavioral Health Care in Kissimmee was chosen in 2015 to serve as Osceola County’s “central receiving system” or CRS. Law enforcement officials were instructed to take individuals with mental health issues directly to the facility to streamline care.
Nine other counties, including Orange and Seminole, also established CRS models.

Twenty-five of Park Place’s 40 new hires were laid off as a direct result of funding cuts.

The facilities were promised state grants to help expand services for the new patients.
In 2016, Park Place signed a $1.97 million annual contract with a managing state entity. The contract was for five years.
Jim Shanks, president/CEO of Park Place, said the extra money was a boon to the behavioral care center. It allowed Park Place to hire 40 new nurses and open 20 additional beds.
“We threw open our doors and helped a lot of people,” Shanks said. “We didn’t have to turn anyone away.”
Park Place was always equipped to handle individuals placed under the Baker Act, a temporary detention for mental health issues imposed by law enforcement. With the new funds, the facility could now also offer help to those placed under Marchmen Acts, a similar detention for those suffering from substance abuse.
“The opioid crisis and substance abuse are real issues in our community,” Shanks said. “Those new beds were always full.”
The CRS funds also allowed Park Place to purchase Vivitrol, an effective opioid-blocking medication. Vivitrol is non-addictive, unlike other substances meant to ease dependency, like methadone. Shanks said Vivitrol is effective because it literally prevents users from getting high if they relapse and take opioids.
“Even if people came here involuntarily through the Marchmen Act, we were seeing good, positive results,” he said. “We were using part of that CRS money for case management too, so that we could follow up with patients and direct them to other services once they were discharged.”
Then, just one year into its five-year contract, the state Legislature slashed funding to Park Place by 40 percent.
The facility lost about $800,000 of the CRS money it was promised a year before. An additional $150,000 was swept away from the facility’s general state funding.
Shanks said the cuts were devastating. By mid-June, administration at Park Place realized drastic measures had to take place before the new fiscal year began July 1.
“When you’re cut by nearly $1 million, you can’t just sit there and do nothing,” he said. “We had to act quickly.”
Twenty-five of the facility’s 40 new hires were laid off as a direct result of the cuts. A small nursing station closed and Park Place reduced the number of charity admissions.
Some of the money taken from Park Place – about $223,000 – has been restored since initial cuts took place. Shanks said the state’s managing entity has promised to restore another $224,000 before the current fiscal year ends, but had yet to do so at press time Wednesday.
There is still much up in the air for the future of Park Place. Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, introduced a House appropriations bill last month aimed at restoring about $300,000 in CRS funding to the facility.
With both legislative bodies and the governor still weeks away from a final decision, Shanks said he and his staff are anxiously waiting the final word on funding.
“We are just above breaking even right now,” he said. “That could all change if our funding gets cut again.”
Florida was ranked one of the worst states in the county for per capita mental health funding, according to the Florida Policy Institute. It averages $36.05 per capita, compared to the national average of about $125.
Local groups and officials have stepped up to support Park Place.
Last month, the Osceola Legislative Effort (OLE) made the facility a top priority during its visit to the Statehouse. The group of community leaders travels to Tallahassee each year to lobby for key legislative issues impacting the county. In a memo released prior to its trip, OLE stated that cuts to Park Place “could not have come at a worse time” and called for “more mental health services, not less.”
Government officials are also working to restore funding.
La Rosa said he plans to “fight like heck” to get a version of HB 3005 on the Senate side. The lawmaker noted that the state’s budget is tight this year, but said mental health and substance abuse are two important issues in Osceola County.
“The opioid crisis is critical,” he said. “Providing help for those seeking treatment is an important part of solving the problem in Osceola County.”