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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.

Local Emergency Room Staff Will Start Assessing Patients’ Mental Health

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Heidi de Marco
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Emergency room staff at AdventHealth in Kissimmee and Orlando will ask patients about feelings of hopelessness or despair as part of routine assessments over the next year and a half. 

Then they’ll pair patients at a high risk of suicide with counselors who can provide follow-up care for ninety days.

Patients will receive daily calls-and possibly house visits-from these counselors who will assess their symptoms and connect them with mental health care resources in the community.

AdventHealth’s Robert Geissler says the program - a collaboration with the University of Central Florida - wants to reduce the number of suicide deaths in Central Florida.

“How do we start providing that preventative care like we would with a typical chest pain patient? The same type of healthcare probably doesn’t apply to those patients with that mental health disorder. And that’s why we’re trying to change the landscape with this particular project.”

UCF’s Kim Gryglewicz says similar programs-like one at Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan and Centerstone Hospitals in Tennessee-prevented suicides along with healthcare costs associated with mental health-related emergency room visits.

“Often people who are in need of help and who are thinking about suicide, often have a sense of isolation or they’re feeling alone. Or they’re feeling like they’re a burden on other people. And they don’t have that feeling of connection or support. And this particular team of caregivers will be able to aide them in their recovery.”

Guidance counselors were on hand at Lake Mary High School last week after a 17-year old student killed herself. Her memorial will be held tonight at the school at 5:30.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.