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Duval Mental Health Advocates Welcome Proposed Pilot Program

State of Florida

Duval County mental health advocates are hoping a bill filed by a local lawmaker helps divert more people with mental illness from ending up in state hospitals or jail.

The measure would standardize mental health courts in Florida and create a pilot program expanding long-term care in Northeast Florida.

Duval ranks third in the state for the number of people with mental illness committed to state hospitals for treatment.

Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) wants to reduce that number by standardizing the use of mental health courts, and expanding the scope of so-called community-based care organizations, helping them treat patients for longer.

He says the same bill failed last year after too much was added.

“When a bill gets too large it can proverbially collapse under its own weight,” McBurney says. “So, say for example somebody gets hung up on one provision of a larger bill. You know the thing that kills bills more than anything else is time.”

Mental Health America of Northeast Florida’s Denise Marzullo applauds McBurney’s resolve, but says the measure is just one piece of the puzzle.

She and the members of the Duval County Mental Health Collaborative are pushing for a central receiving facility to help send people to treatment long before they’re seen by a judge.

“It’s kind of a collaborative effort between his pilot program and what is in his bill along with a central intake receiving facility,” Marzullo says.

Last month, members of the collaborative took a tour of a central receiving facility in Miami, championed by Circuit Judge Steve Leifman.

The group is still trying to figure out exactly how a Duval facility could be paid for, but Marzullo says such a place would help police determine whether someone requires long-term outpatient care or a hospital stay instead of a jail cell, saving the county money in the long run.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.