July 14, 2022

Bolstering Florida's Behavioral Health Care Infrastructure More Important Now Than Ever

This is a moment of unprecedented urgency for Floridians in need of behavioral health crisis care.  The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered increased mental health and substance use disorder treatment needs. Plus, a new national suicide prevention hotline – 988 – is launching in July.

Recognizing the urgency in providing services for Floridians in crisis, 36 organizations from across the state signed on to a letter urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to take action and draw down millions in additional federal dollars to help ensure a more robust behavioral health care infrastructure. 

Specifically, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was enacted on March 11, 2021, establishes a new option for states to cover mobile response team services (MRTs) through their Medicaid programs for a five-year period beginning April 2022. It also provides an enhanced federal match, which covers 85 percent of the cost of these services for the first three years. 

MRTs, which provide 24/7, on-demand crisis intervention services in homes, schools, emergency departments, and other settings, are a critical piece of behavioral health crisis care.

A recent Florida Policy Institute analysis makes the case for using ARPA funds to supplement current state and local funding for MRTs. Notably, the state's current $18.3 million annual investment in mobile response teams, which was made pursuant to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, could be used as a state Medicaid match to draw down over $100 million new federal dollars for the first three years and more than $28 million in subsequent years. Additional state matching dollars could be available through annual mental health allocations provided to local school districts.

Another reason why investing in MRTs is especially crucial: a national 988 suicide prevention hotline is being rolled out, and Florida callers will be routed to local centers for help. The hotline was established “to improve access to crisis services in a way that meets our country’s growing suicide and mental health related crisis care needs,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is anticipated that the new hotline number will increase the demand for these services and shine a light on the holes in Florida’s system of crisis care. These new federal dollars for MRTs could go a long way to help fill those holes. 

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