County commissioners move forward with mental health treatment grant

The Putnam County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday signed off on an effort to alleviate the burden mental illness and substance abuse puts on local government and law enforcement officials. 

In a unanimous decision, the board approved Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare including the county in its application for a grant to better provide treatment for people taken into custody under the Baker Act and prevent them from again being taken into custody for the same reason.

The Baker Act is a means to provide people with emergency services and detention on a temporary basis for mental health evaluations and treatments. 

Stewart-Marchman-Act CEO Ivan Cosimi told commissioners the goal of his organization is to initiate a central triage and transportation unit on Kay Larkin Drive in Palatka, where his employees would evaluate people brought in under the Baker Act and transport them to the facility that would best assist them. 

“One of the really hard things in our industry of behavioral health is that our population in Florida continues to grow and expand,” Cosimi said. “And the problems with mental health and substance abuse also continue to grow.”

Opiate dependency and mental health have become major issues, he said, and the state Legislature is putting up money to help counties combat the problems. 

Last year, the state provided $10 million in grants for counties, and this year, they doubled that amount, Cosimi said. 

Stewart-Marchman-Act has offered similar grant-based transportation unit service in Flagler County, and the grant the group is writing would be for Putnam and St. Johns counties, Cosimi said. He told commissioners there are Stewart-Marchman-Act facilities in both counties. 

“The idea is to stop the next Baker Act,” Cosimi said. “Most of these folks, you’re going to be Baker Acting (again), especially now.”

In addition to providing treatment for substance abuse and mental health, Cosimi said, Stewart-Marchman-Act will monitor patients for a year to ensure they don’t regress and again get taken into custody under the Baker Act. 

Cosimi said this program would lessen the stress on local law enforcement agencies, which pick up repeat offenders under the Baker Act and arrest people repeatedly for drug offenses. 

Commissioner Nancy Harris said the program would also take financial strain off the county, which currently pays to transport Baker Act patients to out-of-county facilities. 

Harris is the chairwoman of the county’s Public Safety Advisory Council, which unanimously gave its recommendation for Stewart-Marchman-Act to include Putnam in the grant. 

With the advisory council – which also has judges and law enforcement officers as members – having given its approval, the next step was for commissioners to OK the measure. And Harris made the motion to do so. 

“We were all very pleased to have this come forward so we could get some help,” Harris said. “The county pays a great deal of money for transport services to take people out of the county. It’s going to save us some money. It’s going to organize it more to a central location. This is a giant step forward if we can get the grant.”

Palatka Daily News

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