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Mental health group seeking clout ; Organization has new lobbying partner, looks to change some laws

Florida Times Union - 12/12/2014

Mental Health America of Northeast Florida now has a lobbying partner in Tallahassee, and the organization hopes to persuade legislators to change the laws and give more money to Jacksonville mental health services.

The organization hired The Children's Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group, with $165,000 in money from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and the Jacksonville System of Care Initiative.

"It became more and more evident we needed a coordinated process in Tallahassee," said Mental Health America chief executive Denise Marzullo.

She's also hired a chief operating officer, Debbie Andalora, so Marzullo can focus on advocacy.

The announcement came a month after the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. released a report on mental health problems in the area.

"Florida ranked 49th of 50 states in per capita state mental health funding in 2012, and Northeast Florida ranked as the second- lowest-funded region in the state," the report said. "... Statewide, the level of funding for mental health was reduced by $20 million over the three-year period 2010-12, and on a per capita basis, funding for mental health in Florida (adjusted for inflation) is less than it was in the 1950's."

Marzullo said she hopes the Legislature will allow advanced registered nurse practitioners to prescribe controlled drugs, which is allowed in most states. "If advanced registered nurse practitioners were able to prescribe controlled substances," she said, "that would alleviate a lot of the wait lists and access to care for a lot of mental illnesses."

She also wants to see more money set aside for diversionary courts that allow the mentally ill who are in criminal trouble to receive help, instead of just incarcerating them.

She said one key finding in last month's report was that the mental health organizations needed a stronger voice in Tallahassee.

"This is an opportunity to unify the mental health platforms in a way that we haven't been able to do in Florida to date," said Linda Alexionok, executive director of the Children's Campaign. "What we have currently is not getting the outcome and results that taxpayers want, and that is to have healthy Floridians and to have happy mental health Floridians."

Alexionok said the key will be convincing legislators it costs the economy more to not spend money on mental health services.Andrew Pantazi: (904) 359-4310


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