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Florida Senate advances bill to designate behavioral health teaching hospitals

Rick Mayer
The USF Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa would be one of the four pilot behavioral health teaching hospitals under the proposal.

The $114 million plan designates four pilot facilities linked to medical schools in Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami and Gainesville to address a state shortage of mental health professionals.

With the bill citing an “urgent need” to increase the number of doctors and other workers to care for people with mental health and substance-abuse issues, the Florida Senate on Tuesday began moving forward with a $114 million plan that includes designating behavioral health teaching hospitals.

“I think this is a huge step for Florida and one that’s well past due,” bill sponsor Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said before the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee approved the plan (SB 330).

The bill would designate four pilot behavioral health teaching hospitals linked to medical schools. They would be Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine; UF Health Shands in Gainesville and the University of Florida Medical School; UF Health Jacksonville and the University of Florida Medical School; and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

To be designated as behavioral health teaching hospitals, facilities would have to offer such things as psychiatric residency programs and post-doctoral clinical psychology fellowship programs.

They also would have to develop plans that would address a wide range of workforce-related issues, such as coordinating “partnerships that integrate colleges and schools of nursing, psychology, social work, pharmacy, public health and other relevant disciplines with existing local and regional programs.”

The House version of the bill (HB 1617), filed by Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, has not appeared in committees. But Boyd said the House and Senate have worked out details.

The bill comes as Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has made increasing the number of doctors and expanding access to health care a key issue in this year’s legislative session. The Senate has passed a plan that Passidomo calls the “Live Healthy” proposal, which is gradually moving through the House.

While Passidomo’s plan would address a broad swath of health care issues — from increasing medical-residency slots to trying to provide care outside emergency rooms for patients with non-emergency conditions — the Boyd and Garrison bills are more narrowly focused on behavioral health.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who has long worked on behavioral health issues, said Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic showed the mental health needs in the state.

“The time has come” for the behavioral health plan, Rouson said.

The bill would set aside $100 million next fiscal year for distribution to the pilot teaching hospitals if they submit required plans to the Department of Children and Families.

Along with the teaching hospitals, the plan also includes a series of other issues, including providing $6 million for medical residency slots at the pilot teaching hospitals.

It also, for example, would establish the Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at USF. That center would have responsibilities such as analyzing workforce needs and making recommendations.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.