Spent my Wednesday afternoon in the jury assembly room at the Citrus County Courthouse attending the Public Safety Coordinating Council meeting.
And enjoyed every minute.
Have you ever had an idea and tried to imagine how it might work out? Lately I’ve been writing about mental illness in this county and wondering why the people who are on the front lines aren’t involved in the solution.
I mean, the county commission is deciding on the Baker Act campus, yet the folks in our community who actually have day-to-day contact with sufferers and their loved ones are somehow not at the table.
And then…they were.
The Public Safety Coordinating Council meets quarterly and talks about, you know, public safety stuff. At least that’s my guess. Wednesday was the first time I’ve ever attended one.
The county commission appointed Commissioner Rebecca Bays to the council and she used the opportunity to open the conversation about mental illness in a real and true way.
Participants included representatives from both hospitals, the jail, the school district, LifeStream, NAMI-Citrus, Pace Center for Girls, United Way of Citrus County, Jessie’s Place, several county higher-ups, Community Alliance of Citrus County and CASA.
I counted about 40 people. It took a half hour for introductions.
Bays has taken a much different view on the Baker Act project than the other commissioners. For one, she believes we’re using the Baker Act as a crutch far too often; Bays fears all this talk will give citizens the mistaken impression that locking people up for three days solves our challenges with mental illness and addiction.
She would prefer we take “Baker Act” out of the conversation altogether. Without the wraparound services, particularly follow-up care, the LifeStream program in Citrus will mean very little.
Hence, Wednesday’s meeting.
I took some notes:
— Bays: “If there’s a gap, I want to know where the gap is.” There we go. That’s the challenge.
— Heard this from numerous organizations: Need is increasing, funding is decreasing. Many of these entities rely on state grants to keep programs running.
— County firefighters and EMS have administered 400 Narcan doses already this year. Narcan is given to someone overdosing on opiates, including the deadly fentanyl.
— The county has alternative court programs designed to help people whose errors of judgment are related to particular issues. There’s Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Veterans Treatment Court. Each has less than a dozen current participants.
Then there’s Teen Court: 84 current clients with 33 cases still pending. Oftentimes their parents are participants in one of the other alternative court programs at the same time.
— There’s a disconnect between the LifeStream Baker Act facility in Leesburg and the services Citrus County residents receive once they’re home.
Sometimes the patient doesn’t cooperate with follow-up visits. I’ve heard that before. The idea being someone from Inverness is Baker Acted to Leesburg, released after three days, gets home with his meds and never follows back up with the doctor.
I also don’t think it’s that simple. Remember this is a mental illness, not someone with a broken toe. As I wrote in last Sunday's Chronicle column about my own battles with depression, with mental illness the brain is a liar. I’ve also heard enough stories about the weeks it takes for a a follow-up appointment to think there’s truth in it.
— Bays: “How do we drive the need for a Baker Act down?” There are a lot of downsides to being Baker Acted and, frankly, I haven’t heard much upside to it.
Everyone in that room Wednesday has the same goal: Preventing situations from becoming so bad off that a Baker Act commitment is the only remedy.
— There’s a general lack of Citrus County mental-illness data. I know…data is boring. But our challenges are anecdotal unless we can back them up with facts.
— Someone said: “We don’t even know we all exist.”
Boy, that’s vital. Each time I’m in a room with a large group of community minded folks, I’m reminded of all the star power we have in this county of people who want to help. It’s important to know they’re not alone.
I felt a real sense of community, folks not interested in pursuing their own agendas but rather trying to make sense of the senseless. Mental illness is a big fat question mark. These experts don’t have the answers, but they have the willingness to seek them together.
Credit to Bays for starting the conversation on such a high level. Many, many more conversations are to follow. Soon the group will begin the exploration process to find those gaps in mental health services, and plug them.
I looked around that room and recognized the faces of people who Know How to Get Things Done. A mix of government, courts, law enforcement and nonprofits. These folks are serious about their mission.
They’re locked into figuring this out.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.