BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's only receiving site for juveniles taken into custody for their own protection is again sounding the alarm.
The number of juvenile patients arriving at Springbrook Hospital under the state law known as the Baker Act spiked dramatically during the first quarter of 2014, said hospital administrator Mike Hogan.
"The figures are astounding," Hogan said.
During the first three months of 2013, Springbrook evaluated 70 child and adolescent Baker Act patients. In the same period this year, the number ballooned to 131.
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 in-patient care program.
Springbrook is the only Baker Act receiving site in Hernando County, but is not licensed or designed to provide in-patient care to minors. The children and adolescents, who can be as young as 5 but typically range from 12 to 17, are evaluated and, if necessary, driven by Springbrook staffers to in-patient treatment centers in the region.
The rising numbers put a further strain on Springbrook's resources and require more children to be transported to centers in Orlando and Ocala.
"It's not just unfair to us; it's unfair to the children," Hogan said.
Hogan sent an email on March 19 to mental health care providers, school district officials and other stakeholders who meet monthly at Springbrook for a roundtable discussion about Baker Act care in Hernando.
He urged the recipients to attend the next meeting, slated for Tuesday.
One source of the Baker Act patients is the Hernando County School District. Betty Harper, the district's manager of student services, said officials have not seen a spike in its numbers, but would attend the meeting.
Hernando County gives matching funds to the Harbor for crisis care and other services. When BayCare officials announced they would close the Harbor's crisis unit on Grove Road in January 2012 in order to focus on outpatient services, they agreed to work with Springbrook to place minor or indigent Baker Act patients at other BayCare facilities such as Morton Plant North Bay in New Port Richey.
Springbrook officials have voiced concerns that North Bay is often unable to accommodate Hernando children because of a lack of beds, forcing Springbrook to drive patients to the Centers in Ocala and University Behavioral Health Center in Orlando.
Of the 131 juvenile patients in the first quarter, 12 went to BayCare's North Bay; the majority went to Orlando and Ocala, according to Springbrook data.
BayCare has said it works hard to accommodate Hernando children, and that hasn't changed, spokeswoman Lisa Creswell said. She said officials want to attend Tuesday's meeting before commenting further.
The wave of Baker Act patients is, at least in part, a symptom of Hernando County's inadequate mental health care network, said Dr. Waqar Hasan, Springbrook's medical director. The families of children who are sent out of county and stabilized at in-patient centers return to Hernando to face a lack of mental health professionals and other resources, Hasan said.
"We are working a revolving door, with the same children coming back to us," Hasan said. "We are far behind in terms of resources and what is available to our child in this county, which means they will grow up with improper treatment, and they will be a burden to the community in general."
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 is the managing entity over Hernando and 22 other counties.
Lutheran agency officials have said a lack of funding has been an obstacle to expanding mental health care in Hernando. A spokeswoman said two officials will attend next week's meeting.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.