TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — The DeSantis administration has put a focus on mental health and well-being, with First Lady Casey DeSantis spearheading several family-focused initiatives including Hope Ambassadors, The Facts. Your Future., and Hope For Healing Florida – to name a few.
One of the largest initiatives the First Lady has led with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is a new $12 million investment to increase access to behavioral health support for first responders, which has already served more than 5,000 employees and their families.
DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris – returning for DeSantis’ second term – describes her mission as building strong and resilient families, but more specifically “holistically providing services to ensure that [the Department] takes full advantage of those critical moments on a person’s journey towards recovery and resiliency.”
“Our goal is to increase the availability of necessary services, and to ensure individuals know how to access those supports before a crisis occurs,” said Secretary Harris.
ENDING ADDICTION IN FLORIDA
When asked what’s on the horizon, Secretary Harris pointed to the myriad of initiatives and strategies underway aimed at ending the opioid epidemic.
In August 2022, state agencies unveiled a new effort in the fight to end overdose and addiction and disrupt the opioid epidemic. The Coordinated Opioid Recovery (CORE) Network is the first statewide addiction care pilot program in the nation, placing Florida as a leader in sustainable opioid recovery.
“It is vital for individuals battling behavioral health disorders to have access to the right array of services that will work for their individual needs,” said Harris. “When everyone comes together to bolster our state’s system of care, we can ensure that Floridians have access to comprehensive services when they need it most.”
DCF continues to collaborate with the Department of Health to expand this program to more counties. Harris relayed that the State of Florida will have more than $100 million to further invest into other evidenced based strategies, including advancements in data sharing, prevention, and treatment programs.
The goal of healthcare data transparency across all systems has often seemed impossible, especially in a state like Florida with multiple state departments collaborating in the Health and Human Services (HHS) sector.
“Often, we meet to discuss how the data we collect can be better utilized,” the Secretary explains, “so that past problems that were addressed in silos are collectively addressed through a more robust and collaborative process.”
A priority for DCF is automating data collection processes that will relieve administrative burdens currently felt by hospitals and crisis stabilization units. Secretary Harris revealed that the Department is working on a strategic plan that will increase the usability of all data.
“A vast effort is being put into improvements in this area and I cannot wait to see the end result of the design and planning efforts that have been underway,” said Harris. She then cited the many reductions that have been made to address service gaps throughout the DeSantis Administration.
There has been a surge of funding infused into the behavioral health system. Governor DeSantis devoted more than $2.7 billion dollars to behavioral health services in the FY22–23 budget, including $126 million in new funding to expand capacity for these services.
A focal area of the Legislature is reducing the number of psychiatric hospitalizations among kids. The DCF has taken a hard look at opportunities to broaden the options available for parents when deciding what’s best for their child.
The DCF has allocated millions of dollars to expand in-home intensive services including Community Action Teams, and services that are proven to reduce the need for hospitalization like Mobile Response Teams (MRT) – reducing hospitalizations by 80 percent.
For the first time ever, children have access to short-term residential treatment options in Florida.
“We are ensuring that Floridians can access care at any point based on their individual needs,” said Harris. “We have added over 700 acute care and residential beds to the behavioral health system in Florida.”
FASTER ACCESS TO TREATMENT
This investment has huge potential impacts to help both children and adults access services faster. Over the last eight months, the Department has seen a 62 percent reduction in the number of adults with a persistent mental illness awaiting services at a state mental health treatment facility.
In a reflective moment, Secretary Harris acknowledges that the system is a whole lot better than it was four years ago and is looking forward to continuing to work with the governor, the first lady and community stakeholders.
“I’ve worked in state government for almost 20 years, and I can honestly say this is the greatest level of investment and commitment to improving our behavioral health system,” said Harris. “This important issue affects so many Floridians and I am proud to work for a governor that recognizes that and has worked to eliminate roadblocks to delivering care.”