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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.

Bill To Expand Access To Mental Health Courts Clears Committee

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Meredith Geddings
Florida Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, sponsored a bill to expand access to specialized courts.

More veterans could soon be able to access an alternative court system. Prisons are often called Florida’s largest mental health system – as many as 125,000 adults with mental illness or substance abuse disorders are booked into Florida jails each year.

And 70 percent of the kids in the juvenile justice system have at least one mental health disorder, according to an analysis. House Bill 439 would give more people access to specialized mental health and veteran courts.

Representative Charles McBurney, a Republican from Jacksonville, said House Bill 439 also expands veteran’s courts to probation.

“And it also expands the number of persons who would qualify for veterans’ courts,” McBurney said. “All these programs work together with the ultimate goal of helping the people who need to be helped and reducing recidivism.”

Jacksonville Judge Mark Mahon spoke at the committee meeting as well.

“With so many people with mental health illnesses, the present system is ineffective, expensive and frankly inhumane,” Mahon said.

The bill has one more committee stop in the Florida House, and a companion bill is moving through the Florida Senate. Central Florida already has a veteran’s court.

Reporter Abe Aboraya is part of WMFE in Orlando. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.