And the Ayes have it! With a unanimous 5-0 vote from Collier County Commissioners, 2020 marks the first year of the County’s first-ever strategic plan for how to better care for residents struggling with mental health and substance use disorders.
The five-year plan, developed by an elected 19 member Mental Illness and Addiction Ad Hoc Advisory Committee, gives county officials and stakeholders a road map for the future investment in and development of programs and initiatives that will lead more people on the road to recovery through six priority areas.
The strategic plan process began several years ago when, then new, Commissioner Andy Solis, Esq. starting meeting with stakeholders to get a handle on the scope and complexity of the issues Collier faced with meeting the need. He has warned how unprepared, both in terms of infrastructure and tools, the County was to deal with the emerging crisis.
Solis learned mental health and addiction affects everything from transportation to housing and hospitals to the school district. Soon after, Solis helped inform the community about the many needs and the voters responded by passing the one-cent sales tax increase in 2018, in part, because it would fund a new 50,000-square-foot, $25 million Central Receiving Facility to be managed by non-profit mental health and addiction treatment center David Lawrence Center (DLC). Solis then spearheaded the initiative to create the strategic plan and advisory panel to see it through.
The plan addresses the increased demand for crisis support — and the strain that has placed on law enforcement, local hospitals, and DLC.
The plan builds on community strengths and already working progressive initiatives such as the Court’s Rapid Response Team and Problem Solving Treatment Courts; 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 development of the plan, these innovative approaches, and unique public-private partnerships are vital to meet the current staggering demand and plan for the future. One especially important driver behind the initiative was recent data showing Florida now ranks dead last among all states per capita spending for mental health – and during a time when the nation’s opioid epidemic is killing more than 70,000 people a year, suicide rates are at an all-time high, and mass shootings are far too frequent.
The plan calls for a coordinated effort for a full array of evidence-informed services that will improve lives and overall quality of life in Collier. These services are guided under the principle that recovery is not only possible, but expected, with appropriate supports so long as they are available.
The committee identified the top priority as the need to build and operate a Central Receiving System to 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 are currently being managed at the jail.
The second critical priority increases housing and support services for persons struggling with mental illness and/or substance dependence. The plan seeks to meet this basic need so that individuals don’t cycle in and out of homelessness, jails, shelters, and hospitals at a high cost to the individual and society.
Other priorities include the establishment of a data collaborative for data sharing and outcomes reporting; an increase in capacity and effectiveness of the justice system response for persons experiencing serious mental illness and/or substance use disorders; a non-emergency transportation plan that will free up law enforcement and provide a more dignified, humane, and timely method of transportation to and from acute care facilities; and improvement of community prevention, advocacy, and education.
The plan also pays special attention to Collier’s Veteran population and seniors, who often deal with these challenges, but sometimes in unique ways.