Anne Swerlick
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May 24, 2019

Filling Mental Health Care Gaps Crucial to Emergency Preparedness in Florida

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just released the 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index, an annual ranking on how well states are prepared for public health emergencies such as hurricanes, infectious diseases and terrorism. Florida’s overall security level is 6.7 out of 10, equal to the national average. This is a dramatic improvement since the index began in 2013.

But drilling down on specific areas considered by the ranking, Florida remains well below the national average. Notably, its lowest ranking is on the “health care delivery system,” which is “the ability to ensure access to high quality medical services across the continuum of care during and after disasters and emergencies.”

Florida ranks particularly poorly on the availability of mental health services. Recent tragic events arising from Hurricane Michael in the Panhandle highlight gaps in the state’s capacity to respond to public mental health emergencies.

This is not surprising given Florida lawmakers’ long history of underinvestment in mental health services, the failure to keep up with inflation and the Sunshine State’s growing population.  While this past session the Legislature has wisely decided to increase funding, much of it is time-limited federal dollars. What happens after those dollars run out?

In the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers will once again be confronted with making appropriation decisions to meet competing priorities. The Florida Policy Institute asks that they keep this in mind: Putting more resources into community mental health will not only shore up the state’s capacity to respond to emergencies, it will also build broader long-term resilience for Florida families and their communities.