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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019 1 year ago

HEALTH MATTERS: Access to mental health services key issue in Central Florida

A recent study conducted by AdventHealth, Orlando Health and other Central Florida health organizations identified access to mental health as a key issue in the region.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

Central Florida reportedly has a lot of work to do in the area of treating mental health.

The 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment named access to mental health care services, food insecurity and access to overall health care as the three biggest issues Central Floridians face today. The CHNA was conducted by AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, Orlando Health, Aspire Health Partners and local health departments from the four-county region, as well as other local, federally qualified health centers. 

“Many of us in Central Florida were aware that mental health is an issue,” said Lainie Fox Ackerman, assistant vice president of external affairs and community benefit at Orlando Health. “It’s an issue across our nation, but really what the CHNA does is it sheds light on what’s happening right here in our community. I think what our community and our residents shared is very telling of things that they’re living with on a daily basis.”

“We know mental health is a growing issue in all of our communities,” AdventHealth Apopka CEO Tim Clark said. “We know we’ve got to put some focus on it to really make a difference. … It’s a real prevalent issue that we’ve got to get creative on, and we’ve got to work with our community partners throughout to really help alleviate and resolve some of the challenges around mental health.”

The CHNA, conducted every three years, examines takes the health of citizens in Orange, Osceola, Lake and Seminole counties. The purpose of the CHNA is to identify major community issues and gaps in services that contribute to the overall health of the region. The data for the CHNA is collected from more than 3,200 citizens through more than 2,700 surveys and 15 focus groups. Additional data from the Florida Department of Health, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health organizations also were collected for the assessment. 

A key discovery of the CHNA related mental health found that 58% of respondents felt hopeless or depressed. One staggering statistic from the assessment: There is one mental health care provider per every 809 residents in the four-county region, including West Orange. That statistic is a disparity that is greater than state and national averages.

“Mental health doesn’t necessarily depend on your economic status,” Clark said. “Beyond the four-county region of this study, you can boil that down and say that West Orange is a representative subset of that (assessment).” 

“A majority of the community respondents indicated challenges (accessing) mental health services, knowing where to go for the services or even being able to afford them,” Ackerman said. “Another thing that bubbled up around mental health was over half of the respondents indicated that they lack companionship (and) that they feel left out or isolated. A slightly higher percentage of these respondents indicated that they feel depressed or lonely and/or have little interest or pleasure in activities.”

Although the findings of the CHNA may seem grim, there are steps being taken to help address those needs. Both Orlando Health and AdventHealth are working toward addressing the mental health-related needs identified by the CHNA.

“The assessment helps us to identify potential partnerships and opportunities, how we can expand services or programs or how we can help other existing organizations that are providing services,” Ackerman said. ”We do a really good job with the inpatient piece and stabilization, but now, we’re looking at working with partners that focus on the outpatient piece. One way that we’re doing that is we have an Orlando Health Community Grant Program. This is a program that we started a few years ago where (not only) community partners but also our team members can apply for grants or funding for the work they’re doing.”

“(One of) the other things that’s starting to become more prevalent with mental health is telehealth,” Clark said. “This is something we’re trying to understand internally is … how do you start leveraging applications and resources that are on your phone or on the internet to get access to resources for mental health? That’s (another) level out there that we’re trying to understand and work through ourselves right now from an AdventHealth standpoint, but there are resources, today, that are out there that are electronic.” 

Cost is always a factor and is often the biggest hurdle for low-income individuals. In addition to traditional mental health service providers, mental health services also are offered through nontraditional providers such as support groups, nonprofits and religious organizations. Physical activity and social interaction can also give a boost to one’s mental health.

“There are (other) resources in the community whether it’s going to church or going to support groups,” Ackerman said. “Exercise, physical activity (and) just getting out there to engage your social network is so important to your mental health. It doesn’t have to be something big and grandiose.”

“We know access (to mental health services) is limited, and there’s a few things we are working on to try and help with that,” Clark said. “Over the last year, specifically, we have helped to fund, with Matthew’s Hope, their new mental health counselor. They just started that program. Having enough mental health counselors is part of (the challenge), but also being able to access the mental health counselor is another part of it. And through Matthew’s Hope, I think we’re helping to accomplish both of those (challenges) and through that partnership we’ve deployed with them.”

Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and the West Orange Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a double major in Journalism and Political Science. Contact Eric at...

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