BROOKSVILLE — A lack of psychiatric beds and mental health services is a growing problem among service providers in Hernando County.
"It just starts that cycle, a crisis cycle," said Bob Foster, emergency department director at Oak Hill Hospital. Mental health patients need additional support, but the resources aren't available, he said.
The Hernando County Health Advisory Board held a community forum Monday in hopes of forging a common path among the myriad agencies that deal with mental health issues.
Foster was one of many who spoke about the lack of mental health services in the county. As in many regions, especially in today's economy, funding is an issue. In some ways, however, Hernando is unique.
With a population under 200,000, it doesn't qualify for the amount of government funding that larger counties receive.
"Our greatest need is for those (mental health patients) who have a need for a bed placement," said Kathy Burke, CEO of Brooksville Regional Hospital. "But if there's not a bed, there's not a bed."
The state only pays for four psychiatric beds, which are at The Harbor Behavioral Health Care Institute.
Lack of health insurance further complicates the issue.
"More than one out of four folks are uninsured or on Medicaid," said facilitator Jeff Feller, of WellFlorida Council.
Patients needing support often end up in a county emergency room. But once they've been medically cleared, there isn't always an available place for them to go even for those brought in under the state Baker Act, under which people can be held if they are viewed as a danger to themselves or others.
For some without access to health insurance or transportation, the only place mental health services are available is within the criminal justice system.
"Oftentimes, jail or prison is the only place where they've gotten medication or treatment," said Hernando County Jail psychologist Dr. Robert Klukoff.
"And of course when they leave, they have the same issues, lack of health insurance and medication," he added. "They can't afford it."
"There are so many potholes in our whole continuum of care," said service provider Judy Everett.
Overall, the group identified key areas of concern. This month, the group will review a preliminary report generated by the forum's discussion.
"You can help what happens next by attending the next meeting," said Feller.