CRESTVIEW — The April 11 FNBT.com Suite 100 Charity Golf Classic is more than a chance to play Shalimar Pointe's links. Fundraisers are an integral part of providing county residents with mental health services.
Florida ranks next to last among the 50 states in funding for mental health services, First Judicial Circuit Court Judge Terrance Ketchel and Ginny Barr, the Mental Health Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties' executive director, said.
It would take an additional $500 million allocation a year just to advance to 48th place, Ketchel said.Fifty percent of his court's caseload is family law matters, many of which focus on mental health, he said.
Barr, speaking with Ketchel during the Feb. 12 combined meeting of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce Government Issues and Health and Wellness committees, described mental health as "feeling good about yourself, feeling good about others (and) feeling good about life."
However, shortage of funding makes the Mental Health Association depend on fundraisers such as the April golf tournament, she said.
The association receives "thousands of calls" each year for information and assistance, but the number of inpatient mental health beds is at about the same level as during the Civil War, Barr said.
"As treatment moved from inpatient to outpatient alternatives, funding, expected to move with the patients, did not," Barr said.
The association, working with county sheriffs' offices, determined many mental health cases involve patients who are off their medication due to financial difficulty.
The association partners with area pharmacies to provide emergency one-month supplies of medications when possible, costing the organization as much as $15,000 per year.
One in four of the chronically homeless, many of whom are military veterans, have mental health problems, many severe, she said.
But needy patients usually end up in a hospital emergency room, which is the most expensive treatment facility, but for the area, is the only option, Barr said.
HOW TO HELP
The Mental Health Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties welcomes new members and donations to help support area mental health services. Annual dues are $30, payable by PayPal or check. Contact 244-1040 or pay at www.mhaow.org or 571 Mooney Road, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32547.