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Florida Department of Children and Families Champions Mental Health Awareness and Access through Innovative Initiatives

May 1, 2024

ORLANDO, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Children and Families hosted a Mental Health Awareness Month roundtable to discuss advancements in the way public, private, community, and faith-based organizations are supporting individuals and families with mental health resiliency and well-being. Leaders from across the state joined together to highlight the considerable strides Florida has made in behavioral health services.

Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Florida has made significant investments to support agencies and organizations working directly with people contending with mental health or substance abuse.

“At the Department, our commitment lies in championing the well-being of vulnerable children and families across our state. With an unwavering dedication to innovation and collaboration, we strive to create pathways of resilience for all Floridians,” said Secretary Shevaun Harris. “Together, through holistic approaches and strategic partnerships, we are reshaping our systems to better serve those in need. This May, as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we hope to highlight the improvements made and successes in supporting the delivery of evidenced based care.”

"Today, as we begin Mental Health Awareness Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to fostering a culture of understanding, support, and compassion,” said Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Jason Weida. “Together, we can break the stigma surrounding mental health and ensure everyone has access to the resources they need to thrive.”

“This Mental Health Awareness Month the Florida Behavioral Health Association wants to honor the hard work that providers and state leaders have done to ensure that individuals in need of mental health services have somewhere to go and someone to talk to,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, President and CEO, Florida Behavioral Health Association. “Promoting the mental health and well-being for all children, youth, and families in Florida is fundamental to the future of our communities.”

Florida’s Heightened Focus on Access to Resources

In March, the Department unveiled a groundbreaking Baker Act Data Reporting Dashboard, designed to improve transparency and accessibility for Baker Act receiving facilities. This initiative is part of a larger effort to modernize data reporting systems, providing timely insights into regional and geographic trends. It highlights areas with high utilization rates, recurring admissions, initiation settings, and reasons behind the admissions. Additionally, the dashboard provides up-to-date information on Baker Act initiations and demographic breakdowns, including age demographics.

In 2023, Florida's Baker Act system boasted 5,880 receiving facility beds statewide. That same fiscal year, Florida saw a reduction in Baker Act admissions which demonstrates progress in community-based crisis intervention strategies.

Florida added 12 Mobile Response Teams (MRTs), totaling 51 statewide in Fiscal Year 2022-2023. MRTs received over 28,000 crisis calls, diverting 82 percent of callers from hospitals or jails. Additionally, care coordination assisted over 4,500 individuals, connecting them with necessary services, including support for families with infants at risk for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, families in the child welfare system with behavioral health needs, and children/adolescents seeking acute care services.

The Department implemented the first year of the Florida Suicide and Crisis Lifeline answering 129,701 calls (5th most among U.S. states), making 47,140 referrals to mental health services, and averting over 1,500 suicide attempts in progress. The program achieved a 96 percent diversion rate from a higher level of crisis care during fiscal year 2022-2023. Finally, to improve access to longer-term crisis stabilization services Florida opened the first short-term residential treatment facility for children in Miami-Dade County.

“I am honored to champion mental health care in Florida through the Commission and strive to ensure access to quality care through empowered and resilient communities,” said Jay Reeve, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Apalachee Center, Chair of the Commission on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder. “We provide vital services to thousands of individuals and families annually and work together to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those we serve.”

“Ensuring that mental health resources are available to the community is one of our core tenants, and with our many partners we are able to offer a variety of services and treatment levels to individuals in need,” said Maria Bledsoe, CEO of Central Florida Cares Health Systems. “We want to ensure that individuals have all the resources and supports they need to live their most fulfilled lives.”

“Mobile Response Teams (MRT) are a critical intervention tool that helps communities assist individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis,” said Babette Hankey, President and CEO of Aspire Health Partners. “These teams provide swift response, assessment, de-escalation, and connection to community resources and services, all with the goal of avoiding involuntary commitments under Florida’s Baker Act or Marchman Act statutes. MRT should be considered essential infrastructure in every Florida community.”    

"Florida hospitals serve as a lifeline for Floridians grappling with mental health challenges," said Mary C. Mayhew, President and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. "Florida hospitals provide more than medical treatment; they also provide the compassionate care and unwavering support from trained professionals in individuals' darkest moments. Working with our partners in the health care industry and leaders in state government, Florida hospitals are expanding access to behavioral health services so that Floridians can get the help they need.”