Melanie Brown-Woofter: Lives are on the line

Silhouette of troubled person head. Concept image of anxiety and
From suicide to drug overdose to children’s mental health, the data is alarming.

Lives are on the line. Families, including children and adults of all ages, are struggling with anxiety, depression and drug use. Community mental health and substance use providers are experiencing daily pressure to provide more services and must receive an increase in Medicaid funding to meet this new demand.

Behavioral health providers received minimal COVID-19 relief as they were only able to access 3% of the $500 million in federal Health and Human Services provider relief funds that came into Florida. Of the other COVID-19-related Medicaid funding opportunities, behavioral health providers had limited or no eligibility to participate.

Florida lawmakers can support these community providers by increasing funding for mental health and substance use services covered by Medicaid. Medicaid rates for these services have not increased since 2001. This budget action will ensure that providers across our state can meet the increasing demand for services critical to improving mental well-being.

From suicide to drug overdose to children’s mental health, the data is alarming. Even before the pandemic, death by suicide was the eighth leading cause of death in the state, the third leading cause of death for people ages 15-24, and the second leading cause of death for people ages 25-34.

Additionally, the opioid epidemic — the ‘epidemic within the pandemic’ — rages on. Disturbing data in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Medical Examiners Report shows that total drug-related deaths increased by 17% in 2020 — that is 2,134 more deaths over the same time period in 2019. Even more concerning is a 42 percent increase in opioid-caused deaths.

The Florida Behavioral Health Association (FBHA) advocates for community mental health and substance use treatment providers that serve Floridians who are uninsured, underinsured, and Medicaid eligible. These providers see the tough issues people face every day — the loss of loved ones, worries about a safe place to live, or balancing work and family. As more people seek help, our system is facing issues with capacity as it struggles to reduce wait times and serve those in need.

This pivotal budget action will make mental well-being a priority and ensure that services for mental health and substance use services are available for all Floridians.


Melanie Brown-Woofter, a trained clinician, is president and CEO of the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

Guest Author


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