More mental health help for children as Orange County adds clinicians

County also adds crisis intervention training, expands inpatient beds

ORLANDO, Fla. – On Tuesday afternoon, Orange County commissioners agreed to spend $10 million on several solutions for those struggling with their mental health, including offering free counseling and assistance for children in crisis.

For the past two years, Orange County has been studying what to change to better care for citizens with mental health issues.

In February of 2022, the county presented its analysis to commissioners: simply, that the county needs to do more. They agreed and set aside $10 million to do it. Much more complex is what to do.

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On Tuesday, Orange County Mental Health and Homelessness Division Manager Donna Wyche gave Commissioners a list:

The new programs include:

  • Implementing a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program for first responders who interact with individuals in a mental health crisis to deescalate situations. The CIT program creates partnerships among law enforcement, the mental health treatment system, and families. Orange County has completed training for 129 first responders with ongoing classes continuing through this year.
  • Increased pre-booking diversion programming at the Orange County jail to help individuals get much-needed mental health services at two drop-in centers staffed by Aspire Health Partners.
  • Expanded Crisis Stabilization Unit Beds (CSU), with the Central Florida Behavioral and University Behavioral Center to add another 10 beds. These beds are for individuals who need inpatient medical services for mental and behavioral treatment.
  • Expanded the Nurse Family Partnership with the Early Learning Coalition to provide more than 80 women with behavioral health and medical care.

Developing programs and strategies include:

  • Launching the first pilot program established by Orange County for mental health services from birth to 18 years of age, in a primary pediatric care office. The services will be coordinated through Pediatric Associates at eight of their Orange County medical offices. Services will be for pediatric experts to assess, prevent and treat mental and behavioral health issues. On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners approved this new pilot program, dedicating $1.03 million for these services.
  • Providing the 911 Communication Center with trained crisis management experts to conduct assessments for inbound callers where there is a possible mental health situation. The licensed clinician will divert the call to the most appropriate level of care for a response.
  • Implementing the Upstream Model with Chapin Hall in Orange County Public Schools to reduce homelessness and dropout rates. Upstream involves several components, embraces a prevention perspective, and connects schools and community services. Its mission is to identify and intervene with young people and their families at high risk of becoming homeless to strengthen their resilience and address underlying risk factors before they escalate to crisis.

Wyche said doctors at the eight pediatric partners will refer children in crisis to clinicians and clinicians will perform an assessment and provide care, all free for the patients.

“How it works is you would take a child in for a pediatric appointment and you might be saying he’s not sleeping, he’s not eating,” Wyche said. “You actually get ongoing treatment. So what we’re paying for are those clinicians, that infrastructure for the mental health, behavioral health piece of that practice, and then every kid that needs an assessment, that needs ongoing care, it’s available right there.”

Here are the eight pediatric care partner locations:

  1. Alafaya: 1561 S. Alafaya Trail Road, #400, Orlando, FL 32828
  2. Apopka: 200 N Park Avenue, Suite A, Apopka, FL 32703
  3. Dr. Phillips: 7051 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Suite 7, Orlando, FL 32819
  4. Lake Nona: 10105 Clear Vista Street, Suite B, Orlando, FL 32832
  5. Lee Vista: 6447 S. Chickasaw Trail, Orlando, FL 32829
  6. Metrowest: 1601 Park Center Drive, #6B, Orlando, FL 32835
  7. Semoran: 1651 N. Semoran Blvd., Orlando, FL 32807
  8. Winter Garden: 1327 Garden Vineland Road, Suite 120, Winter Garden, FL 3478

Wyche said the gap in mental health services for children is growing and is critically important.

“Fifty percent of lifetime behavioral health issues present before the age of 14,” Wyche said. “Seventy-five percent before the age of 24. But we do not really focus our efforts on prevention, early intervention, or identification. We focus our work on when people are going into jail or going into the crisis stabilization unit or when they’re on the side of the road talking to themselves.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said investing in mental health benefits everyone.

“It has resulted in long-term reducing the number of people that we’ve booked through our jail, and where housing people at correctional facilities is very very costly,” Demings said. “Versus treating them is less costly to the taxpayers.”

Wyche said mental health is at the “core” of all social issues.

“DUIs, crime, foster care, losing your children is often due to mental health or substance abuse issues,” Wyche said. “Homelessness, mental health, addiction, disabilities, chronic homelessness. About 80% of the chronic homeless have mental health, behavioral health issues.”

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.