Community Pillar Turns 50

Journalist Jeff Lytle interviews CEO Scott Burgess on the David Lawrence Center’s 50th anniversary.

BURGESS: It has been an honor and privilege to serve as a pillar of hope, health and wellness for the last 50 years and David Lawrence Center looks forward to helping our community thrive for the next 50 and beyond!

We feel blessed to have the support of so many donors, volunteers and leaders in the community who are passionate about the health, safety and well-being of our community.

It started with Polly Keller’s vision, hard work and ability to bring people together for those in need. That passion continues with a dedicated volunteer board, a highly skilled and compassionate staff of more than 350 people, and a generous community that cares.

Our ability to respond to community needs and grow when the need arises is only possible through the symbiotic relationship between federal, state, county and donor funding. No one is ever turned away.

The community seems to look to you every time a new problem comes to light, such as opioid addictions, PTSD and juvenile suicides. What would we do if DLC were not there?

  • More suicides.
  • More overdoses.
  • More unnecessary loss of life.
  • Decreased public safety.
  • Even more people with mental illness and addiction would be housed in jails.
  • Increased homelessness.
  • Emergency rooms would be even more overburdened with patients experiencing mental health and addiction crises
  • In children, increased substance abuse, criminal justice involvement, school failure, hospitalizations and teen pregnancy.

With Florida ranking 50th in mental health funding, Collier County voters have adopted a new, special tax that would, in part, support better mental health services. Do we have any details on those plans?

The Centralized Receiving Facility will serve persons experiencing an acute mental health or substance use crisis. The Central Receiving Facility will greatly expand the capacity of DLC’s Child and Adult Crisis Stabilization Units and Baker Act Receiving Facility and will now accept Marchman Act referrals for addiction, which is currently being managed at the jail.

We are collaborating with the county’s staff and consultants on the design and function of the estimated 55,000 square foot facility. Initial plans are anticipated to be presented to the county commissioners this summer. Construction is set to start in 2022.

The DLC website says you provided 277,000 “services” to children and adults in 2019. What does that mean?

We count every appointment as a service. Last year, we provided 9,857 people 277,00 individual services which could include a Crisis Unit stay, medication management appointment, group therapy session, case management service, in-home visits, etc.

How can DLC sustainably meet the challenge of having 84% of clients with no or government-subsidized insurance?

The biggest challenge DLC faces is a $1.5 million gap in funding every year – the difference between the cost of treating the skyrocketing number of Collier County citizens with serious mental health and addiction needs, and completely insufficient funds from the government and insurance companies. And the gap is getting bigger, forcing us to rely more on compassionate donors. State funding has remained flat for decades.

Is there any other issue important to DLC that you would care to address?

As a result of heightened awareness from recent headline-making school shootings, increased suicides among children and the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic coupled with this community’s extreme population growth, projected future referrals to our center are staggering. As a result, over the last several years, DLC and stakeholders have worked with the county to develop its first ever countywide mental health strategic plan. The plan addresses the increased demand for crisis support and the strain it has placed on law enforcement, hospitals and DLC.

The plan builds on community strengths and already working progressive initiatives such as court programs; Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for law enforcement; the sheriff ’s newly established Mental Health Bureau; and the county’s close collaboration with DLC, advocates and community supporters. The plan will improve Collier’s overall quality of life – guided by the principle that recovery is not only possible, but expected.

One critical priority is increasing housing and support services for persons struggling with mental illness and/or substance dependence, so that individuals don’t cycle in and out of homelessness, jails, shelters and hospitals at a higher cost to the individual and society.

Solely through donor support, DLC is about to open its first sober living home, Hope House, for those in early recovery.

Other priorities include non-emergency transportation that will free up law enforcement and provide a more dignified, humane and timely method of transportation to and from acute care facilities; improvement of community prevention, advocacy and education; and special attention to Collier’s veteran and senior population.

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