Baker Acts in Lee County have increased 428% over this time last year. This staggering increase is directly related to the impact of the COVID pandemic which increased social isolation and exacerbated depressive and affective disorders.
The Baker Act is an existing law that allows for the temporary detention and examination of people showing evidence of mental illness who are in danger of harming themselves or others. It can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals.
Individuals who are Baker Acted are transported for involuntary examination to a Baker Act Receiving Facility. Currently, there are only two Baker Act Receiving Facilities in Lee County — Park Royal Hospital and SalusCare. Park Royal Hospital is a private mental health hospital. SalusCare is Lee County’s public community behavioral health treatment center.
Most people with a serious mental illness are uninsured and go to SalusCare. As a result, this community behavioral health treatment center is bursting at the seams resulting in its inability to provide adequate mental health treatment to meet this year’s increased demand.
Lee County Commissioners recently conducted a workshop to discuss the proposed allocation of the $149 million from the American Rescue Plan Act for spending across a broad array of areas that need help because of the impact of COVID. The proposed allocation for Mental Health Services is $13 million.
County Commissioner Chairman Kevin Ruane urged the county staff and commission colleagues not to be in a rush to make quick decisions on where and how to spend the $149 million in COVID relief aid. Instead, Chairman Ruane urged his colleagues to take advantage of the multi-year life of the program and not make allocations immediately. December 31, 2024 is the deadline for the disbursement of the funds.
I would like to suggest to all of the County Commissioners that while that may be a good approach for some of the proposed spending allocations, you need to realize that Lee County has a mental health crisis that requires your immediate attention. While you study the proposed allocation for Mental Health Services, the situation will only worsen and lives will be lost. I urge you to act as expeditiously on our mental health crisis as you did in getting the complex vaccination program started over Christmas weekend. The vaccination program was about saving lives. So is acting expeditiously to fix our mental health crisis.
Dottie Pacharis, Mental Health Advocate and former citizen editorial board member for the News-Press.