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Flagler looks to add 'drop-in' mental health center

News-Journal - 1/26/2020

An effort is underway to create a "drop-in mental health clinic" somewhere along State Road 100 in Flagler County but those plans may be more of a dream than a reality -- at least for now.

Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron said during a Jan. 13 commission meeting that officials are "working on the mental health issue" with other stakeholders.

"It will be a partnership between AdventHealth, Stewart Marchman Act Behavioral Healthcare and the Board of County Commissioners when I bring it forward to you," Cameron told commissioners. "It will be a very key component not only to mental health but help with suicide prevention."

Cameron used the term "drop-in center" for mental health services, which would be similar in concept to medical clinics that offer health services to people without the need for an appointment, are generally open longer hours and can even offer 24-hour services.

Rhonda Harvey, chief operating officer at SMA Healthcare, said agency officials are interested in the concept and they are preparing to open a similar clinic in Putnam County.

"It is something we are familiar with," she said Friday during a telephone interview. But what about having such a center in Flagler County?

"It's actually nowhere at this point," Harvey said. "At this point there is really nothing firm in process."

Harvey said if a space became available, the process could move forward but the issue of funding would still have to be worked out.

"It takes a little over $200,000 in operating expenses annually" to operate a drop-in mental health clinic that could offer mental health services to anyone who needs it, she said.

Colleen Conklin, a member of the Flagler County School Board and an active proponent for mental health services, said her understanding is that nothing is a given at this point.

"Everything is still in the developmental stages," she said. "There are community partners working on a proposal or plan, but no funding has been obtained or grants have not been applied for."

In an interview with the News-Journal on Thursday, Cameron said there are "some final pieces to put together" for the clinic.

"We need to make sure the funding for the operation is secure," he said. "That would be happening through SMA."

Cameron said the county is playing a "coordinating" role in the effort, putting together a "public/private partnership." Initially, the county would work through the General Services Department to do renovations on the structure that would house the clinic, according to Cameron.

"The future of the building has got to be firmed up as to who would own it and who would maintain it," Cameron said.

Asked if the county would consider taking ownership of the facility, Cameron was quick to reject that possibility.

"My board has made it clear to me they want no more used buildings on the rolls," he said. "I would not even take that question to them based on conversations."

While the county would not own the facility, Cameron said there is a role for local government in the effort to bring more mental health services to residents.

"The county's role is essential in being able to remove some obstacles and put in some seed money," he said, but did not offer a specific figure. "The county does not have the resources to do these things on its own."

Cameron said a drop-in center for mental health is "extremely critical" and said the effort will require cooperation from across the community.

"It is one that is not going to be solved in any significant way except through public/private partnerships," he said.

"It will still take some pieces falling into place," Cameron said. "I certainly hope we will be able to make it operational this calendar year."

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