A chamber of commerce luncheon is the last place to find deep discussion on the community’s social ills.
But there we were, 200 or so, packed into the Citrus Hills banquet hall at noontime Friday, listening intently as a sheriff’s Sgt. Rachel Montgomery explained in sobering detail why Citrus County has a problem with mental illness and drug addiction.
Basically, we’re not equipped for it. No Baker Act facility, no local aftercare, lack of psychiatrists for adults and children, and a general absence of cohesion in the community — good intentions, but no focused direction.
And now LifeStream Behavioral Center, the state contractor chosen to serve Citrus County’s mental illness needs, is planning a Baker Act campus in Lecanto. The company’s CEO, Jon Cherry, is making a presentation to the county commission at 10 a.m. Tuesday; the board is expected to vote later this month on a $2 million allotment to LifeStream to help make that happen.
I have a point to make but one thing first.
Depression/mental illness is the worst feeling. The WORST. The one part of your body you’d think would always be truthful — the brain — becomes a manipulative liar. Instead of screaming to get help, as it would if I broke my arm, for example, it tells me this is all MY fault, no one loves me, no one cares for me, I’m in everyone’s way and the world would be a much happier place without me in it.
I didn’t read that in a textbook or website. That’s from personal experience. My mind has led me down some dark paths and it’s the miracle of God’s grace, wonderful friends and the right medicine (please don’t ask) which relieved me of that hellhole. Twice.
So the Citrus County mental illness/drug addiction issue has my rapt attention.
Anything of this nature — millions of dollars, a state contract, heavy lobbying — requires a healthy dose of politics.
LifeStream very much wants the county commission’s commitment of $2 million toward the Baker Act campus. Hernando County is ready to pitch in $2 million (though, oddly, it is expecting a children’s Baker Act). LifeStream is hoping for $2 million from the state and a question mark with the Citrus County Hospital Board (I’ll get to the CCHB in a minute). LifeStream picks up whatever costs are left.
The county commission has already voted 3-2 for the $2 million, but it’s not official until commissioners OK a contract.
Commissioners Jeff Kinnard and Diana Finegan seem ready to cut LifeStream a check. Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach has questions. Commissioner Holly Davis was on the fence a few weeks ago but voted with Kinnard and Finegan.
Commissioner Rebecca Bays, though, has a much different view. She believes the Baker Act is misused, a quick fix for people who have no business being housed with the mentally ill. Bays is speaking specifically of those with dementia, or teenagers whose entire future could be altered in a negative way because they were Baker Acted.
That brings me back to the Friday chamber lunch. After Sgt. Montgomery concluded her remarks, the floor was open for questions and comments. Many were of the “What do we do about…?” variety. The answers were not encouraging. We have far more questions than answers.
At least we’re talking about it. Though it does raise a point.
There is a disconnect between the policymakers who vote on the LifeStream contract and the actual people who use services. This is no knock on LifeStream — few people leave positive Baker Act reviews on Google — but shouldn’t politicians at least listen to real-life experiences before cutting such a huge check?
One quick thing about the Citrus County Hospital Board. It no longer wants to participate financially because the county doesn’t own the land. CCHB attorney Bill Grant sent the county an email — ridiculous even for him — that said CCHB trustees won’t attend the county commission’s workshop on this issue crucial to the community.
“Our trustee members are volunteers and work during the day,” he wrote.
Oh please. We don’t have time for such nonsense. That ploy might have worked 10 years ago when the hospital boards were out-lawyering each other, but it’s time to put aside such silliness and join the conversation.
Mental illness and addiction are destroying the fabric of our community. We owe it to our neighbors, friends, children, and professionals to do our best.
Drop the politics. If the LifeStream Baker Act campus makes sense for our community, sign the contract. If it doesn’t, don’t.
Just too much at stake to get this wrong.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.