Some Manatee officials feeling relief over Baker Act compromise

rdymond@bradenton.comApril 11, 2014 

Manatee Glens officials say they are seeing an increase in patients being treated for heroin addiction.

MANATEE -- The Appropriations Committee of the Florida Senate on Thursday unanimously voted to advance Senate Bill 1726, which requires that mental health crisis centers, like Manatee Glens, construct a statewide data base to show how much they spend on Baker Act patients who are taken into custody as a danger to themselves or others and have little or no health insurance.

In Manatee County, both Mary Ruiz, president and CEO of Manatee Glens, and Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube expressed relief ,because SB-1726 is a compromise out of an earlier proposed bill that they both viewed with concern.

Senate Bill 1726 evolved from Senate Committee Bill 7122, which, had it become law, would have allowed Florida's Department of Children and Families to fund mental health crisis centers on a pay-as-you-go, patient-by-patient basis rather than the funding system in place for decades, where providers are paid a flat fee, monthly or quarterly, to keep beds available for mental health patients in crisis, Ruiz said.

"In Manatee County, this bill would result in the closure of most beds in the Manatee Glens Crisis Center for adult and child involuntary Baker Act commitments," Ruiz said of the first bill. "The impact on our law enforcement and hospital emergency rooms would be catastrophic."

"It's not over until the fat lady sings," Ruiz added Thursday, explaining that the compromise will probably face more debate before it becomes a law. "But I am happy and I know the sheriff is also."

Steube said it's important that Manatee Glens' 18 beds stay open because it's the best place for his deputies to take mentally ill people who may hurt themselves or others.

"We would have to take them to a hospital, but the unfortunate thing about a hospital is that while they would get immediate care, they would not get follow up care," Steube said.

"If Manatee Glens is full, we have to transport them to the nearest hospital," Steube added. "The hospital is much busier ,and it ends up our guys stay longer there."

Mike Hansen, executive director of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, a trade association for nonprofit crisis centers, was vehemently opposed to Committee Bill 7122 but is OK with the compromise. He said that many of those lobbying for the original bill represented for-profit medical facilities.

"I think what is happened here was that the for-profits were saying that the crisis centers could be taking insured patients and putting them in beds paid for by the Department of Children and Families," Hansen said. "That is why they wanted the money to follow the patient."

Reached by phone by the Herald on Thursday, Tim Macsuga of Universal Health Services, which owns Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and Manatee Memorial Hospital, both for-profits, said he did not wish to comment.

"I think, in the end, the for-profits said, 'We will agree. Let's look at the data collection system,' '' Hansen said. "But, you know what, when they finally see the how much care we are providing and that these rates haven't increased in a decade, it will really shed some light."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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