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State budget cuts force Stewart-Marchman to end mental health services in Southeast Volusia

News-Journal - 11/3/2018

Nov. 02--As a local agency continues to grapple with state funding cuts, it will no longer be able to provide some vital behavioral health services, such as medication management, counseling and treatment, in New Smyrna Beach.

The change, which went into effect Friday, resulted from another tough executive decision by Stewart-Marchman Act Behavioral Healthcare that will force 400 Southeast Volusia patients to make their way to Daytona Beach or DeLand for treatment.

While the agency's rape crisis center in New Smyrna Beach will remain open, officials at Stewart-Marchman said this week that they wish they could have kept more services intact at the facility on 311 N. Orange St. Changes to state funding left them no option.

In May, the agency learned it would lose $2.2 million for inmate substance abuse services. That blow spelled the end to a local program designed to keep men out of prison. Recently, Stewart-Marchman learned that the Florida Department of Children and Families was shifting $500,000 of the agency's funding away from mental health services and toward substance abuse services.

That factored into Stewart-Marchman's "challenging" decision to consolidate some Southeast Volusia services with the Daytona Beach outpatient clinic on Willis Avenue.

"It is a bit of a tragedy," said Rhonda Harvey, the agency's chief operating officer. "This stings."

[Read: Stewart-Marchman sent scrambling by $2.2 million cutback in corrections funding]

Stewart-Marchman isn't the only health care provider feeling the sting from a Legislature that devotes less and less spending each year to mental health, experts say.

"This is an acute problem in Florida," said Glenn Currier, professor and chair of psychiatry at the University of South Florida's college of medicine.

As Florida's population has increased by 2 million people over the past 10 years, the state has seen its mental health spending per capita drop 33 percent. Overall, Florida ranks 49th in the country in mental health spending per capita, data show.

That data is based on money spent through Florida's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Office, managed by the Department of Children and Families, and doesn't include services paid from other sources, including Medicaid or local funds, on mental health programs.

Currier questions the state's priorities. He said Florida relies too heavily on crisis care, which is designed to help people once they reach their "boiling point." Unfortunately, "people can't get ongoing care" to prevent them from getting to that level.

Mental health facilities throughout Florida aren't just in crisis mode, he said. They are being "suffocated."

New Smyrna Beach's loss of mental health care options joins a list of other services to abandon Southeast Volusia recently. In the past year, a Department of Motor Vehicles office closed and Volusia County shuttered its courthouse annex.

"We in Southeast (Volusia) are stepchildren," said Laura Cloer, a retired Volusia County school district employee. "Taking away services that are needed for a community that votes and pays taxes is so wrong."

"It's a shame," added New Smyrna Beach Mayor Jim Hathaway. "This part of the county is pretty much left out of the loop."

To Regis Sloan, who coordinates a volunteer effort in New Smyrna Beach that helps low-income and elderly residents, none of the other losses to the city is as devastating as the departure of mental health services.

As the coordinator of a ministry at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, Sloan provides food and assistance for roughly 200 people who need a little boost on rent and power bills. She also helps as many as 30 people a month afford medication.

Most of them, she said, don't have transportation.

Stewart-Marchman officials say they are working to ensure that patients of the New Smyrna Beach facility have a way to and from their treatment now that it's been relocated to Daytona Beach and DeLand.

"We don't take it lightly that an individual might not be able to get care because of an access problem," Harvey said. "We will do everything we can to assist with that."

One option: Provide patients with bus passes so they can take Votran, the county's public transportation system, to appointments. But that does little to quell Sloan's concerns about how much this change could impact the region's poorest residents.

"It's appalling that Southeast Volusia is not going to have any mental health facility for people to go to and receive appropriate assistance," Sloan said, though she understands that it's not the agency's fault. "They are between a rock and a hard place (with funding) and our communities suffer for it."


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