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Florida Lawmakers Must Act Fast to Leverage Federal Dollars Toward Skyrocketing Demand for Behavioral Health Services

Woman with head on knee with caption: Mental Health Matters
Photo: Victoria Volkova via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer graphic

ORLANDO, FL – The demand for mental health and substance use disorder treatment has increased considerably since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is crucial that Florida lawmakers fully invest in mobile response teams (MRTs), which provide 24/7, on-demand behavioral crisis intervention services in homes, schools, emergency departments, and other settings.

A new Florida Policy Institute (FPI) analysis makes the case for using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to supplement current state and local funding for MRTs. ARPA funds would temporarily boost Florida’s Medicaid match rate and allow the state to draw down millions in additional federal dollars. These funds are available starting April 2022. 

The state's current $18.3 million annual investment in mobile response teams made under the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act could be used as a state Medicaid match to draw down over $100 million new federal dollars for the first three years and more than $28 million in subsequent years.

The enhanced Medicaid match rate for MRTs is important as a new national 9-8-8 hotline for behavioral health crises, and suicide prevention will be activated by July 16, 2022. Florida callers will be routed to local centers for help.

Florida must have a robust behavioral health crisis infrastructure in place to meet the anticipated spike in requests for crisis services.

More than 7,500 Floridians died from opioid overdoses in 2020, a 37 percent increase from 2019, and nearly one-third of Florida adults reported anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms in October 2021. Additionally, over 35,000 Florida children and youth were subject to involuntary emergency behavioral health examinations initiated under the Baker Act in 2020.

In 2018, a Department of Children and Families task force found that areas with MRTs serving children had lower rates of involuntary examination via Florida’s “Baker Act.”

Even before the pandemic, our state struggled to meet the demand for behavioral health care services, with hundreds of thousands of people unable to access affordable mental health and substance use disorder treatment. The influx of American Rescue Plan Act dollars presents a crucial, time-limited opportunity for Florida lawmakers to bolster the state's mobile response teams’ network and ensure that people experiencing crises have the resources they need during these difficult times.

Gayle Giese, president of the Florida Mental Health Advocacy Coalition (FLMHAC), said: "FLMHAC encourages Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration to opt-in for the 85 percent Medicaid match to support crisis response services in our state. With the activation of 988, there will be a large increase in behavioral health and suicide-prevention calls to our local National Suicide Prevention Lifelines. While many calls will save money because they will be handled on the phone (text or chat), some will require mobile response teams to provide an in-person, on-site behavioral health response. Florida must use all available funding to expand the capacity of our mobile response teams as well as their coverage in all areas of the state."

Peter Sleasman, executive director of Disability Rights Florida, said:  Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for crisis intervention services through the state's mental health system has amplified, despite already being overloaded by serving an unprecedented number of Floridians. This federal funding is vitally important to persons in the disability community with behavior disorders, mental illness, and substance use disorders who might otherwise be imprisoned, involuntarily committed, or killed if not provided access to appropriately-prepared and trained mental health professionals while in crisis."

Sadaf Knight  has over 11 years of experience in public policy research, advocacy and nonprofit management. She is CEO of Florida Policy Institute

Florida Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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