Sarasota facility applies lessons from Sandy Hook tragedy

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 25, 2013 

SARASOTA -- A $670,000 effort designed to aid youngsters with serious mental disorders or addiction problems has opened in Sarasota, partly as a response to a bloody mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set Friday at the new office of the Manatee Glens Mental Health & Addictions Specialty Hospital and Outpatient Practice, which grew from tragedy at the school in Newtown, Conn., where a young gunman, whose past suggested signs of mental instability, killed 20 children and six adults at the school before he taking his own life.

"It's a way to help these kids before it gets critical, and allow these kids to succeed and not be front page news because they didn't get help," said Mary Ruiz, Manatee Glens president and chief executive officer.

The new office can serve clients from Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. It will house 15 psychiatrists, counselors and case managers.

The formal name of its comprehensive program is the Regional Children's Community Action Treatment Team.

"We've taken one of our our unique services ... an intensive hospital without walls for seriously, emotionally disturbed children, whose parents are really struggling to raise their kids at

home," Ruiz said. "They provide support to families and children and young adults to stabilize the child's behavior, give the family coping mechanisms and allow children to succeed in their own homes."

With integrated case management, medication and intensive psychological services, "they do very well," Ruiz said.

Manatee Glens' treatment model, developed in 2005, drew the interest of a Florida House committee seeking a positive response to the Sandy Hook murders. The result was pilot programs financed by the Florida Legislature, including Manatee Glens at 4010 Sawyer Road.

Its specialized outpatient program employs a cost-effective team approach to help all family, Ruiz said. The team spends $67.50 per day per child compared with as much as $350 a day at residential treatment programs, she said.

It's important to reach young people with serious emotional problems early, said Ruth Chamberlain, coordinator for the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition."(If) we have nothing in place early on to intervene, we have to wait until somebody is in crisis, and for young people, they have very short triggers. They don't think things through," she said.

The Manatee-based hospital is extending its private services to Sarasota because a gap in mental health care exists there along with pent-up demand, Ruiz said.

"Private services" means help for clients with some type of health insurance, including Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, Ruiz said. Uninsured patients will be referred to other resources in Sarasota, she said.

Manatee County supports the original program with $3 million annually so even the uninsured can find help at the nonprofit's Manatee County facilities, she said.

"It's a major diversionary program keeping (people) out of residential treatment, and the county has a role in paying for them," Ruiz added.

Last spring, Ruiz told the House committee 3 percent of young Floridians have mental challenges so severe they're not functioning at home, school or in the community, according to news reports from the Miami Herald.

Florida's budget for mental health spending ranks 49th in the country with almost half of its behavioral health money spent on institutions.

"No other state equals this amount," Ruiz told the committee.

If Florida had accepted $51 billion for the Medicaid program through the federal Affordable Care Act, paying for treatment for all who needed it, would have been much easier, said Ruiz -- but the state turned down the money.

For those needing help, call Manatee Glens' 24-hour crisis emergency assessment line at 941-782-4617.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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