Citrus County takes step in plugging mental health treatment gaps

'Now it’s time to put the real time and energy to work.'

It’s a seemingly insurmountable task.

Floridians’ access to mental health and addiction treatment is among the nation’s worst. Stories are rife of patients being locked up for a 72-hour Baker Act confinement, only to be released with no follow-up care.

One Citrus County Commissioner is trying to bridge that gap — and she has the attention of a statewide mental health champion.

Commissioner Rebecca Bays teamed with the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce to host the inaugural Citrus County Behavioral Health Symposium, bringing together 80 community leaders in hopes of starting the process of identifying gaps in service and plugging them.

Facilitating was Robert “Navy Bob” Roncska, senior vice president of the Florida Chamber Health Council, whose role is aligning business, government and advocacy groups in advancing mental health outcomes for Floridians.

“Citrus County is leading this charge,” he said.

Treatment for mental illness and addiction is always at the community’s forefront, but even more so now. LifeStream Behavioral Center, the county’s state provider for mental health and addiction treatment, is planning a Baker Act facility in Lecanto, spurring conversation about community needs.

Rick Hankey, LifeStream interim chief executive officer, promised the Lecanto facility will be a “one-stop shop” behavioral health center designed to provide necessary services on a single campus.

Hankey said he is driven to mental health success by the tragedy of his own brother, who committed suicide after being unable to obtain proper care for mental illness.

He said Citrus County could provide a model for other communities to follow.

“It takes all of us to do that,” he said.

Community advocates and experts laid out a series of challenges Citrus County faces, including:

— High use and overdose rates of fentanyl, as well as a connection between opioid use and crime. Orlando Rodriguez, warden of the Citrus County Detention Facility, said it’s among the worst he’s ever seen. “We have a big challenge,” he said.

— Florida is 49th nationwide in access to mental health treatment, Roncska said. The state is not eligible for a federally funded behavioral health center because it has not expanded Medicaid, he added.

— The situation is especially prevalent among children who witness turmoil in their homes. “They’re angry and they have every right to be angry,” said Melissa Bowermaster, executive director of Jessie’s Place Child Advocacy Center. “The No. 1 thing they need is hope. They need to know someone is behind them.”

— Lack of follow-up care for Baker Act patients and no organized care model.

Bays said afterward that the one-day symposium is a start.

“We convened, we listened but now it’s time to put the real time and energy to work,” she said. “Given the fact that mental health and substance abuse is a global pandemic and our nation’s lack of an effective and widely available service system has contributed to tragic outcomes for people in crisis.”

She added: “It’s evident by the group of people … to sit in a room for six hours that we are going to demand a rethinking — reimagination — of how we the loving, dedicated, caring people of Citrus County will advance the mental health and well-being of our families and neighbors.”

Mike Wright

Mike Wright is a former reporter with the Citrus County Chronicle, where he had covered county government and politics since 1987. Mike's skills as an investigative reporter earned him first-place awards in investigative writing. Mike also helped the Chronicle win the Frances Devore Award for Public Service in 2002.


  • Suze

    June 19, 2023 at 6:05 pm

    All one has to do is look at the abuse of the commitment of children in Florida to psychiatric hospitals by parents, schools, sheriffs and the psychiatric hospitals themselves. There is no real treatment other than medical. The recidivism rates are horrible. No look at the lack of support for the families, support for teachers, schools and the intersection. It has only been made worse by policies under DEATHSANTIS. He doesn’t care about children or mental health

  • Bob goethe

    June 27, 2023 at 7:49 pm

    I remember when federal funding was made available for Medicaid expansion under the Obama Administration. This would have gone far towards funding the programs we need. Rick Scott was governor at the time and refused because it was Obama

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704