Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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FL Lawmakers Paying Attention to State's Health Care Professional Shortage – Mental Health Getting a Boost

Ambulance at speed with headling: Florida Legislators paying attention to state's health care professional shortage
Photo: Camilo Jimenez | Columbia County Observer graphic

FLORIDA – The Florida House is expected to follow the Senate's lead by signing off on an initiative to pour millions into the state's health care industry, including investments in mental health services.

The Live Healthy legislation (press release), which unanimously passed the Senate (the legislation) in January, is now pending approval in the House.

The $715 million package is aimed at enhancing the health care workforce, and expanding mental health crisis response teams. It also creates a behavioral health teaching hospital program.

The bill's analsyis identifies Health Care Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Mental health is one of the areas singled out.

Mental Health Care shortage areas in Florida
See CS/SB analysys here. The Mental health HPSA is on page 5.

Sen. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, said she and the Senate President saw a need to keep pace with the state's growing population.

"There are not a proportional number of health care providers to include behavioral mental health providers, and so, we had to do something different," Burton explained. "We are competing with every other state -- we are competing with Texas and other big states for providers -- so we needed to do more, and we needed to do it now."

There has been some pushback regarding the bill's cost. However, proponents argued the long-term benefits of improved mental health care far outweigh the initial investment. Democrats criticized the bill for not including a Medicaid expansion for low-income Floridians.

Burton noted they also want to provide "regulatory relief" by maximizing the efficiency of the existing workforce and increasing access to mental health services.

"We're reducing some barriers so that psychologists and psychiatric nurses can walk in and work sooner in Baker Act facilities," Burton pointed out. "It just puts more personnel in place so more Floridians will be able to get the care that they desperately need."

A poll by the mental health advocacy group Inseparable shows a majority of registered voters nationwide, spanning bipartisan lines, recognize the escalating mental health crisis affecting both adults and children, with 91%emphasizing its importance as a legislative priority.

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