BROOKSVILLE — Springbrook Hospital administrator Mike Hogan sounded an alarm last month: We need help serving children suffering a mental health crisis.
On Tuesday, about three dozen people gathered in the hospital's cafeteria and brainstormed about how to lighten the load on Springbrook, the only facility in Hernando that evaluates children taken into custody under the state's Baker Act. Mental health providers, school officials and other stakeholders meet at the hospital once a month to talk about Baker Act issues, but Hogan's call prompted a near-record turnout.
"We're concerned that we can't do well enough of a job if we have too much of an onslaught of children coming to us," Hogan told the group.
The Baker Act allows people to be taken into custody for mental health examinations if they appear likely to cause serious injury to themselves or others. Patients are evaluated and, if necessary, admitted to an inpatient care program.
Springbrook is not licensed or designed to provide inpatient care to minors. The children and adolescents are evaluated at Springbrook, and those who need treatment are driven by hospital staffers to other centers in the region.
During the first three months of this year, Springbrook evaluated 131 juvenile Baker Act patients, nearly double the number in the first quarter of 2013. Nearly all needed to be transported to inpatient facilities, Hogan said.
Springbrook hired a psychologist last year to assess the children but still needs help, said Dr. Waqar Hasan, the hospital's medical director. Hasan recommended forming a crisis intervention team that can evaluate children wherever they are to reduce the number who end up at Springbrook.
The other problem is the lack of nearby inpatient facilities for children. The closest to Hernando is BayCare Behavioral Health's Morton Plant North Bay in New Port Richey, but it's often full, so Springbrook drives a majority of juvenile patients to Ocala or Orlando.
Commissioner Diane Rowden noted that BayCare, which gets county funding to provide acute care for Hernando patients, closed its crisis unit on Grove Road in 2012.
"That's when a real breakdown started in Hernando County, when you removed the beds for our children," Rowden said.
Doug Leonardo, BayCare's executive director, disagreed.
"The issue is not building more beds, it's working with the families, getting them the resources they need, and working with kids before they get to the crisis point," Leonardo said.
He accepted Rowden's invitation to come to the April 22 County Commission meeting to talk about the county's mental health needs.
Some help may be on the way.
The Florida Department of Children and Families funnels state dollars through managing entities that solicit bids from mental health service providers and oversee the contracts. Lutheran Services Florida, the managing entity over Hernando and 22 other counties, is prioritizing needs, community engagement specialist Michael Blessing told the group.
"We want to take in all of these ideas," Blessing said. "If we've got extra money, we want to know where to put it."