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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.

Mental Health 'Clubhouses' Emerging As Safe Havens For People With Serious Mental Illnesses

Right now, concerns over the spread of the coronavirus are dominating the news. But in recent years, lawmakers in Florida — and nationwide — have increasingly focused on mental health and its impact on overall health.

According to federal health officials, one in four American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. And it’s not uncommon for a person with a serious mental illness who acts out in public to get a prison sentence instead of treatment.

 

That’s what hapened to former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley's son Kevin, who suffered a manic episode during his senior year of college.

“My son was arrested because he broke into a stranger's house. Luckily, no one was there. He broke in to take a bubble bath,” says Earley.

After Kevin's arrest, Earley researched how the criminal justice system deals with mentally ill people — a story told in his 2007 book “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.”

His journey took him from his home in Fairfax County, Virginia to Miami-Dade County’s main jail, after attempts to visit other cities’ jail systems fell flat.

“I had tried L.A. and lasted two days before they threw me out of the jail, claiming I was violating HIPAA,” says Earley “I tried Chicago. They said ‘No.’ Rikers Island said ‘No.’ Baltimore said ‘No.’ And Washington -- they said, ‘Hell, no’.”

Earley went to Miami at the invitation of Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman, who would go on to create the county’s Criminal Mental Health Project, a program designed to divert people with serious mental illnesses away from jail and into community-based treatment and support services. 

Pete Earley is coming back to South Florida this weekend for a fundraiser to benefit the Key Clubhouse of South Florida. The ‘clubhouse’ model has been steadily gaining popularity worldwide as an alternative to conventional treatments for severely mentally ill people; it offers a path to recovery called “ psychosocial rehabilitation.”

“It offers people who feel alone — who feel that no one understands them — a social connection,” says Earley. “It helps them get jobs. It helps them learn skills. It can provide all the services that someone needs to get that step up to help them become productive members of society.”

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