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Mental Health Agencies Report on Successes and Challenges

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Several members of area mental health agencies spoke to the commissioners at the regular Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on Aug 24, 2021.  The purpose of this gathering was to familiarize the officials and staff with each agency, “the populations they serve, and to highlight current legislative issues and successes,” according to Veda Ramirez, the county’s Health and Human Services Manager.


LSF Health Systems

Dustin Pye, Chief Integration Officer of LSF Health Systems, described LSF’s role in the healthcare hierarchy.  LSF serves as Hernando County’s managing entity, which means that they have a contract with the State of Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to develop, support and fund a network of services and a current total of 62 service providers that deliver mental health and substance abuse services to the indigent and uninsured in 23 counties.  “We are the safety net for vulnerable citizens to have no other means to obtain the help they need.” 

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LSF does not provide services directly, they provide funding for services, and partner locally with BayCare, NAMI, The Dawn Center, and the Hernando County Coalition.

According to Pye, most of the funding does benefit adults, since most minors receive Medicaid or Kidcare. Pye emphasized that the goal of LSF is to make sure those in need receive the services they need.

Commissioner Jeff Holcomb asked Pye how juvenile crisis events are handled in other counties, in light of the possibility of Hernando county building its own facility.  Pye said “Residential programs, as you know, are very expensive to run.  And with state dollars, there is not brick and mortar money, so all of our dollars have to be for services.”  LSU is unable to give one of their partner agencies funding for a Crisis Stabilization Unit or CSU. 

Pye estimated that 10 kids per day would need to be on the census for a CSU to break even.  “That’s if you already have a building,” Pye said.  Hernando does not.  Pye is aware of the same issue in other counties and told commissioners that he and his agency would be available for upcoming meetings to address the issue.  


BayCare Behavioral Health 

Director of Operations Tracey Kaly, Clinical Manager Sandra Marrero and Jenine Martin – Literski, also a Clinical Manager in charge of the Mobile Response Unit presented BayCare’s overview to the board.  

BayCare is a not-for-profit healthcare organization that connects individuals and families to a wide range of services at 15 hospitals and hundreds of other specialty locations throughout the Tampa Bay and West Central Florida area.

BayCare does provide direct services to individuals and families with mental health and addiction needs.  They accept insurance, as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and also serve under-insured and uninsured.  

Kaly reported a growing client base, and more appointments kept during the pandemic, which led to the implementation of tele-health services.  

Marrero presented BayCare’s “Key Community Collaborators,” which includes the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Drug Court, Problem Solving Court, and Veterans Court, Child Welfare Partners and the Hernando County Anti-Drug Coalition. 

It is important to realize that a child does not need to be in contact with HCSO or the court system in order to seek help for themselves, or have a parent or guardian contact BayCare.  

Marrero reported that BayCare is involved in the school system, targeting late elementary and middle school students to teach coping skills early, before the student begins to experience problems.

Mental Health First Aid classes are also offered by BayCare, with a virtual option.  These classes teach parents and other non-professionals how to recognize and deal with a mental health crisis.  These classes are available outside of business hours.

Three years ago, the Mobile Response Team (MRT) was instituted to divert trauma, and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations.  The MRT is available 24/7, 365 days a year.  Literski added that law enforcement does accompany MRT members.  MRT’s average response time is 15 minutes.

Literski reported that between January and July 2021, 387 calls for service, of which 322 responses by the MRT prevented involuntary hospitalization under the Baker Act, a diversion rate of 83%.

Once a crisis situation has been stabilized, the MRT keeps in touch for 30 days with the individual to ensure they are receiving the necessary care and services. 

The Hernando Community Coalition

Tresa Watson, Executive Director of the Hernando Community Coalition (HCC) and 

Project Director Jennifer Bliska, presented data and statistics to the board.  “Substance abuse and mental health go hand in hand,” Watson began.  HCC primarily provides services and education for substance abuse, working alongside of the school district and other mental health agencies.

Watson describes HSS as a “data-driven prevention organization.”  2021 Statistics presented showed that Hernando county has 50% fewer mental health service providers per resident than the state average.  Hernando reports higher than the state average in Poor Mental Health Days and Frequent Mental Distress.

Hernando’s reported overall health ranking in 2021 is 39, placing it in the lower 25-50%.  In 2019, Hernando county was #37.

According to data derived by HCC, 54.3% of Hernando middle and high school students reported feeling depressed most days in the past year.  54% of all students in the district responded “No” or “Unsure” when asked, “If you were feeling sad, hopeless, anxious or overwhelmed, would you feel comfortable reaching out to others for help?”

Bliska added that most students will talk to their friends, “so that’s why we’re out in the schools and in the community.”

High school data shows that Hernando county students are reporting mental illness of someone in their household, incarceration of household members, substance abuse and physical abuse within their households.  Students reporting for themselves have reported emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and emotional and physical neglect.  

Bliska told the board that HCC’s new initiative in response to the adverse events reported will be called “You Are Not Alone,” where Bliska and her team form groups for the students to talk about issues they may have in common. 

Watson and Bliska also reported Baker Act statistics from 2014/15 through 2018/19.  These involuntary hospitalizations have risen steadily in the 2016/17 reporting year, following a surge from the years 2015/16.  Youth data shows a less dramatic increase, but over 400 hospitalizations in this age group in some years.

Watson believes the most recent data will show a downward trend in youth involuntary hospitalizations since the implementation of BayCare’s MRT.

NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness)

Tina Kinney, Executive Director for NAMI Hernando reports NAMI expanding their programs over the past 5 years.  NAMI’s focus is primarily on ongoing support and peer groups, rather than crisis intervention.  

One of NAMI’s offerings is “NAMI Basics,” a parent education class.  “Parents don’t know what they don’t know,” Kinney said, “When a child starts experiencing mental health challenges, and they’re not sure what’s going on, that’s a perfect time for a parent to take NAMI Basics.”  NAMI Basics is offered in the evenings and on weekends to accommodate working parents. 

Various support groups are offered several times a week, both in-person and virtually. 

NAMI also offers a Care Line for those not in crisis, but need assistance in navigating situations and resources.  It is available from 9 AM to 9 PM, seven days a week.  The number is shown at the end of this article. 

NAMI also works with various court programs such as Drug Court, and provides assistance to Springbrook Hospital to help individuals in need get to know NAMI better and “close that revolving door” of recidivism and re-admission. 


Vincent House

David Gonzalez and David Lambert, both with Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative (WREC) represented Vincent House, a facility that espouses the principles of the “Clubhouse Model,” according to Gonzalez.   Explained on their website, “The Clubhouse Model is built upon the belief that all members can recover from mental illness and lead successful and meaningful lives in the community. Clubhouses are a restorative community that believe in the power of work and relationship building as an integral part of one’s recovery.”

WREC had been charged with increasing mental health capacity since 2014 in Hernando and other counties in the area.  In 2017.  Vincent House was made possible in Hernando County through the efforts of Senator Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) who raised $250,000 for services, and the building lease was offered by the Hernando County Government. 

Vincent focuses on “Recovery through work.”  Individuals served by Vincent House are lifetime members.  Vincent House partners with local employers to help their members acquire a “stable productive life as members of our community.”   

Vincent House currently serves members aged 18 and over.

A holistic approach, Vincent House does not provide clinical services, rather they ensure that their members have access to work, housing and other resources pertaining to their mental health.


For more information:  

LST Health Systems: 24 Hour Helpline:  (877) 229-9098   https://www.lsfhealthsystems.org

BayCare:  (352) 467-OKAY (6529)   https://baycare.org/services/behavioral-health

Hernando Community Coalition: 352-596-8000  http://hernandocommunitycoalition.org 

NAMI: Care Line: (352) 316-7783  https://namihernando.org  

Vincent House:  (352) 701-0778  Email: [email protected] https://vincenthouse.org


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