Pinellas behavioral health programs recommended for over a million in funding

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Pinellas County Commission’s Behavioral Health Pilot Program, and two related programs, were quietly recommended for over a million dollars worth of funding by the Commission at its June 4 budget session — the final budget session before the start of the 2016 fiscal year.

The Behavioral Health Pilot Program’s ultimate goal is to stabilize the county’s “high-utilizers,” or those who most frequently utilize local and county mental health services. The program will incorporate “engagement, housing, and intensive treatment,” for 33 high utilizers, in hopes of helping them live “independently or supported in the community.”

According to County Administrator Mark Woodard, both USF and USFSP have been asked for input.

“We’re hoping to engage some professors or doctoral students,” said Administrator Woodard, “to get [some] independent validation.”

Should that validation come in the form of verifiably positive results, the plan’s title may drop the “pilot,” and just be Pinellas County’s new Behavioral Health Program.

In total, $964,440 was recommended by the commission to fund the program throughout the 2016 fiscal year.

Another $200,000 was recommended to fund two related programs, SOAR and Care Credit, throughout FY 2016.

SOAR, or SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery Program, is designed to “increase access to disability income benefits for homeless individuals with mental illnesses and/or co-occurring substance abuse disorders.”

The program was recommended for $100,000 in funding, which will go toward supporting three contracted staff employees and covering the program’s operating expenses. Both St. Vincent de Paul and the Pinellas County Public Defenders Office, which each currently have like programs, are project partners.

The county’s Care Connect Project was also recommended for $100,000 in funding. What Care Connect aims to do is establish an integrated behavioral health information platform, which can then be shared among local behavioral health partners within the community.

“The intent here [is] to develop [a] cross platform sharing of data,” said Woodard of the project.

Commissioner Karen Seel likened Care Connect to TBIN, or Tampa Bay Information Network, which, in Commissioner Seel’s words, “networks all the homeless shelters together so they know what beds are open and where they can refer people. It’s been a very important tool.”

Ideally, the data-sharing platform will provide more transparent and efficient care for patients frequenting various behavioral health facilities. It aims to leverage existing common platforms to create a real-time referral and clinical information sharing system. Partners include Boley Centers, Operation Par, Gulf Coast Community Center, Suncoast Centers for Mental Health, PEMHS, and Directions for Living.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.