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Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

Pediatric Mental Health Care in Southwest Florida

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Bernadeta via Flickr
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Inc. found Florida ranks  49th in the countryon per-capita spending on access to mental healthcare services.  A state Department of Children and Families report finds more than 330,000 children in Florida struggle with serious emotional disturbances.  

Mental health care for children is a growing need in Southwest Florida, with major providers in Lee, Charlotte, and Collier Counties expanding their pediatric facilities to treat patients in crisis. Many of these patients are involuntarily committed for a period of up to 72 hours under the Florida Baker Act. SalusCare in Fort Myers has expanded bed capacity in its Children’s Crisis Unit to meet growing demand.  The David Lawrence Center is Collier County’s only Baker Act receiving facility and earlier this year announced a $250,000 expansion of its inpatient pediatric unit as well as an expansion of children’s outpatient services.  Meanwhile, in Punta Gorda, Charlotte Behavioral Health Care plans to break ground in October on a 10-bed crisis stabilization unit, also to meet growing demand.  We’ll explore efforts to meet the growing demand for pediatric mental healthcare services in Florida and address concerns over Florida’s Baker Act statute.


Tina Sumo, Senior Asst. Vice President of Acute Care & Residential Services for SalusCare

Melissa Caldwell, Naples resident and the mother of a child using mental health services.

Jennifer Ernst, Chief Operating Officer, Charlotte Behavioral Health.

Scott Burgess, CEO of the David Lawrence Center.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

John Davis has been a full-time Reporter/Producer for WGCU since 2009. He is the local host for NPRââââ