The Jerome Golden Center for Behavioral Health in West Palm Beach is quickly becoming the poster child for the dearth of mental health services funding in the state of Florida.
The 50-year-old West Palm Beach hospital, which abruptly closed its doors late last month after a failed attempt at Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, is the catalyst for what many fear is a snowballing crisis of available mental health care services.
Other areas across the state have faced their own cruel cutbacks, or not enough funding to meet the need, especially here in the Panhandle where mental health issues were part of the debris left by Hurricane Michael.
Both speak to a crisis that no local officials seemed able to predict — and none appears able to stop.
It’s past time for local officials to join ranks and demand better. This state ranks last among the states in per-person spending on mental health services. Florida, which spends about $36 per person per year, is ahead of only one U.S. jurisdiction, Puerto Rico, where per capita spending is about $20.
Florida has neither a mental health czar nor a single coordinating agency. Instead, the state relies on an underfunded, disparate network of mental health providers overseen by an overworked, fragmented group of regional entities — like the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, which apparently didn’t know the Golden Center was hemorrhaging about $2 million a year.
Little wonder, then, that mental health providers like the Jerome Golden Center, which was serving more than 1,800 mostly indigent patients a year when it closed last month, must scratch and scrape for every dime just to operate.
It’s a task mental health facility administrators know all too well. The constant scramble for state dollars distracts administrators from their core mission. Lawmakers make things worse by using so-called non-recurring money to fund programs with a stable record of success, and will often fund nearly identical programs at varying levels.
Palm Beach County commissioners, visibly frustrated with the shambles left by the Golden Center’s collapse, last week asked the local legislative delegation to pressure the state Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) for help in preventing a crisis of care. The crisis in that county illustrates the lack of urgency with which our state leaders habitually approach mental health.
Sad, because mental health providers around the state are under increasing pressure, as some 900 people move here each day and more of our kids are diagnosed with mental health issues.
State health officials — and lawmakers —- must continue to step up on this crucial issue. Or they risk sending an onerous message to mental health providers around the state: You’re on your own.
A version of this editorial appeared in sister papers to The News Herald.