Funding behavioral health is essential – especially now
Updated: Jul 6
EPIC Behavioral Healthcare's CEO Patti Greenough, MEd, CPP wrote a letter to the editor of The St. Augustine Record about the increased need for mental health services because of the pandemic, the barriers to mental health services, and the need for funding.
People are hurting. In these unprecedented times of COVID-19, people are experiencing heightened anxiety, depression and stress due to unemployment, social isolation, economic uncertainty, social unrest and are not connected to community, friends, and family. People are hurting.
Essential business has been defined as those businesses whose functions are so vital that the interruption or termination of these functions will constitute a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the persons in the affected community. Mental health and addiction services are essential for those that are participating in them as they are suffering from a life-threatening and relapse prone illness. The coronavirus (COVID-19) represents a direct threat to people and communities. The pandemic also has created an indirect threat – creating profound new barriers for people to access the behavioral health care treatment and services they rely on for survival.
We here at EPIC know, and our national behavioral health leaders agree, that right now people are being impacted by these forces and many will experience new or increased mental health disorders and/or new or increased substance use issues. The mental health and substance use effects arising from the current situations facing our nation, state, county and city have the likelihood of being serious and long-lasting. We are seeing an increase in anxiety, depression, suicide ideation and substance use as people attempt to find a way to cope with our current environment.
As a local behavioral health company, EPIC has kept our doors open and worked to provide services to those in need. And it is our intent to keep people stable in our community. To disrupt the system of care available to those who are dealing with mental health and/or substance use disorders (many acknowledging these issues for the first time) would be unconscionable cruelty on top of the despair from the past few months. This is true not only in St. Johns County, but all around the state of Florida. Due to unemployment people no longer have insurance to cover the costs of treatment. Behavioral health providers are relying on state funding to continue to provide access to crisis support services.
Our Governor will soon be reviewing the statewide budget for this next fiscal year. And while we know hard choices will have to be made due to the pandemic, we are calling on Governor DeSantis to not touch the already limited funding set aside for behavioral health care. People already struggle to access care for a behavioral health disorder, to cut the current funding would be cutting off a lifeline of support for many children, adolescents, families and adults. State funding is needed to continue doing the lifesaving work we do in our community every day, serving individuals with mental illness and addiction. We ask Governor DeSantis to keep behavioral health funding intact in order to protect some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.