First Lady Casey DeSantis Highlights State Agencies’ Mental Health Response During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

June 21, 2020

By: Staff Report

First Lady encourages all Floridians, including health care workers and first responders, to take advantage of free mental health support

First Lady Casey DeSantis

Tallahassee, Fla. — Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis, mental health awareness has been a central part of the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19. Florida’s state agencies have coordinated with the Florida Division of Emergency Management and Florida Department of Health during the public health emergency to ensure Floridians have access to free mental health resources and necessary support.

First Lady Casey DeSantis said, “Mental health must always be an important point of emphasis in disaster response and recovery – especially for individuals already suffering from mental health issues, individuals affected by the disaster directly and health care workers and first responders. In Florida, I am proud of the steps being taken by several state agencies during the COVID-19 public health emergency to offer mental health services and support.”

Lt. Governor Jeanette Nuñez said, “As our state continues to wage its battle against this new illness, we must recognize the toll taken on those individuals who fight every day to keep our communities safe. With these important tools and strategies, we are arming these selfless professionals with the resources they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones as they continue their commitment to keeping Florida healthy.”

State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said, “We are committed to eliminating disparities in the availability and accessibility of mental health programs for all Floridians, including those engaged in essential activities. Our teams of public health professionals, health care providers and first responders will have access to these effective mental health resources to stay healthy as they work to keep our state healthy during this unprecedented time.”

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said, “We know how important mental health is for our recovery as a state. That’s why, at the direction of the First Lady, Florida has set an example nationally for mental health response. We will continue to work every day to make sure Floridians have the resources they need to recover, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.”

Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell said, “I commend the Governor and the First Lady for continuing to prioritize mental health throughout this public health emergency. As we begin to transition into a time of recovery and reflection, many Floridians will need counseling or other support – especially health care workers and first responders. With the proactive and thoughtful measures our state leaders have taken, there will be resources and services available to anyone in need, allowing our state to move forward with a clear mind and renewed outlook.”

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said, “First Lady Casey DeSantis set out to reinvent school-based mental health awareness in Florida, with the goal of being the best state in the nation for connecting all Floridians with available resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for compassion, grace and solid planning, access and infrastructure that can withstand unexpected catastrophes that simultaneously disrupt lives and increase the need for these services. Florida is very fortunate to have First Lady Casey DeSantis’ dedication and commitment to ensure every Floridian has the access and support they need as we recover together.”

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said, “Access to mental health services is more critical now than ever. At AHCA, our fundamental priority throughout the public health emergency has been to ensure those we serve remain connected to community supports and continue to have access to quality care during these trying times. Our agency has waived service limits and prior authorization requirements as well as expanded coverage of behavioral health services provided via telemedicine. We are here to serve Floridians as we continue working through the unprecedented circumstances of this pandemic.”

Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said, “Mental health is vitally important to the overall well-being and physical health of Florida’s 5.5 million older adults, especially during times of crisis. The Florida Department of Elder Affairs has expanded current programs and launched several new initiatives, combined with proactive information sharing, to help reduce social isolation and loneliness among people as they remain safer at home.”

Danny Burgess, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, said, “Despite the impacts of COVID-19, there remain many ways for veterans and their families to get connected with mental health services in our state. If you’re uncomfortable in appearing in person due to the pandemic, you’ll find many service providers provide telehealth counseling services in addition to their normal outreach.”

Florida Department of Health: Free Mental Health Resources for All Floridians and Health Care Workers

During the COVID-19 pandemic and year-round, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) is encouraging Floridians to take advantage of free national and local mental health resources. Here are some of those resources:

  • National Disaster Hotline — 1-800-985-5990
    SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
    An EAP is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems. Contact your organization’s human resource personnel to find out how you can access these services.
  • Florida 211 — http://www.211.org/services/covid19
    Call, text or chat with an area 211 community resource specialist to assist with available services and resources including supplemental food and nutrition programs, shelter and housing options, utilities assistance, emergency information and disaster relief, employment and education opportunities, services for veterans, health care, vaccination and health epidemic information and addiction prevention and rehabilitation programs.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255
    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Lifeline is committed to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices and building awareness.

Recognizing the important role of health care workers, and the way that their mental health is impacted by their experiences, the Florida Department of Health recommends the use of supportive mental health resources for frontline health care professionals. Here are some of those resources:

  • Talkspace: Free Therapy for Frontline Medical Workers
    Talkspace is donating free therapy for medical and healthcare workers and first responders on a limited basis to help nurses, doctors, social workers and others on the frontlines cope with the anxiety and pressure associated with COVID-19. Talkspace connects individual users with a network through an easy-to-use and HIPAA-compliant web and mobile platform. For more information go to: https://www.talkspace.com/covid-resources.
  • Physician Support Line — 1-888-409-0141
    This hotline was developed to provide free, confidential care to U.S. physicians and physicians in training. The hotline is run by volunteer psychiatrists. For more information go to https://www.physiciansupportline.com/.

Visit the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 webpage at FloridaHealthCOVID19.gov for information on COVID-19If you have additional questions, please call the Department’s COVID-19 Call Centers available 24/7 at 1-866-779-6121 or email COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

Florida Division of Emergency Management: Actions Taken to Support Mental Health During COVID-19

Over the past three months, at the direction of Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz and supported by First Lady Casey DeSantis, Florida’s Disaster Recovery Mental Health Coordinator, Darcy Abbott, has taken action to support mental health statewide:

  • Coordinated with representatives from state agencies, non-profit organizations, treatment providers, health care associations, universities, faith-based organizations and other community partners to engage ongoing coordination and collaboration with mental health, emotional and spiritual care providers to support accurate information, messaging and access to ongoing support during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Generated and disseminated a directory of available local, state and national crisis counseling helplines, shared resources, training opportunities, identified areas of concern for mental health services and shared best practices.
  • Worked with the DOH to identify resources for free of charge counseling services for health care providers in Florida.
  • Collaborated with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health on the COVID-19 SAMHSA funded Disaster Crisis Counseling Grant application for Florida.
  • Supported weekly conference calls for behavioral health providers and the Florida Behavioral Health Association with the Secretaries of DCF, AHCA and DOH through identifying agenda items and issues faced by these providers as they worked to serve Florida’s communities and maintain standards of care.
  • Continuously working with other states, as well as federal, state and local partners to develop and share best practices on responding to mental health impacts of COVID-19.

Department of Children and Families (DCF): Mental Health Response During COVID-19

The Department of Children and Families has taken the following actions to support mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Received $2 million emergency federal grant from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for crisis intervention services, mental health and substance abuse treatment and other related recovery supports for children and adults impacted by COVID-19.
  • Following President Donald Trump’s Disaster Declaration for Florida, DCF submitted a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to implement a crisis counseling program in Florida.
  • At the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency in Florida, DCF gave Managing Entities the flexibility to use telehealth services resulting in a 33 percent usage increase since February.
  • Through the use of telehealth services, the time to access care has decreased from a median of seven days to two days.

DCF also encourages Floridians in need of support to utilize the following resources during the pandemic:

  • National Disaster Distress Helpline – 1-800-985-5990
    Provided by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Disaster Distress Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
  • DCF Abuse Hotline – 1-800-962-2873
    This toll-free number is available 24/7 and counselors are waiting to assist you. Call 1-800-962-2873, Florida Relay 711 or TTY: 1-800-955-8771. To report abuse online visit https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/

Florida Department of Education: Mental Health Resources for Students

Florida students rely heavily on school-based student support service and access to mental health professionals. During COVID-19, Florida school districts quickly adapted their practices to connect school districts and students using virtual practices with school support services personnel, including school social workers, school counselors, school psychologists and school nurses. The Florida Department of Education has supported this effort by:

  • Hosting virtual webinars for district leaders, school nurses, school social workers, school counselors and school psychologists on how to better connect students and families with health care professionals and mental health services through web-based online platforms.
  • Connected districts, schools and educators with professional development on strategies for providing virtual services for students.
  • Collaborated with districts and schools on engaging local mental health providers and stakeholders to assist in providing services and support to families in need.
  • Partnered with the Department of Children and Families to encourage districts to prominently display the DCF Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-962-2873, to their virtual platforms so that students and families had easy access.
  • FDOE also developed and disseminated a list of community resources for families and educators in support of student needs.

Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA): Waiving Service Limits and Expanding Coverage for Medicaid Recipients

The Agency for Health Care Administration wants to allow Medicaid recipients to be able to focus on maintaining their health and limiting their exposure to COVID-19. AHCA believes that by providing additional support, Medicaid recipients can continue to receive their medically necessary behavioral health services without concern of their services ending because they have reached a service limit or because they require a new prior authorization.

Florida’s Medicaid program is providing additional support during the COVID-19 public health emergency to help ensure that Medicaid recipients in need of mental health services or substance use disorder treatment have the tools, resources, and support necessary to get through this difficult time without worry of benefit limitations. This includes:

  • Waiving service limits (frequency and duration) for all behavioral health services (including targeted case management services) covered under the Medicaid program.
    • For instance, by waiving service limits on individual therapy and family therapy, it allows those who have an increased need for more therapy sessions than the hours they are typically allotted to receive this important and preventive service.
  • Individuals are only allowed 26 hours of individual therapy and family therapy per year. For someone who is in ongoing treatment for a year, this equates to one session every two weeks. By lifting the limits, recipients can receive additional treatment at a greater frequency, if needed during this time. As stressors mount on families, there may be a need for more assistance.
  • Expanding coverage of behavioral health services provided via telemedicine to services including, but not limited to, mental health or substance abuse psychotherapy services, individual or family therapy services and medication-assisted treatment services.
    • Within AHCA we have seen a surge in telemedicine claims, indicating these services are reaching more individuals and families than ever before.
  • Waiving prior authorization requirements for all behavioral health services (including targeted case management services) covered under the Medicaid program.
    • In Medicaid managed care, plans have up to 7 days to render a decision if the service is not urgent and even in urgent situations, plans must respond within 2 calendar days.  Eliminating prior authorization also allows providers to quickly provide care without waiting for approval.
  • Lifting limits on prior authorization allows practitioners to more quickly provide long-acting injectable medications for individuals or for substance use treatment like Suboxone and Methadone.

Florida Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA): Mental Health Resources for Older Adults

During COVID-19, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs is focused on combatting the effects of social isolation for Florida seniors, especially those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. DOEA has launched several initiatives to support older Floridians, including the following:

  • Project: VITAL for Long-Term Care Residents: Project: VITAL utilizes virtual technology to relieve the difficult symptoms of social isolation for residents in Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) and nursing homes. The Florida Department of Elder Affairs is partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association and other industry leaders to distribute tablets statewide to residents to bring families together virtually and help mitigate feelings of isolation.
  • MP3 Players for Home-Bound Seniors: DOEA has delivered over 1,000 pre-loaded MP3 players to socially isolated seniors and adults living with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD). The gift of music is made possible through a donation from the Florida Alzheimer’s Association. Each unit will be mailed to the caregivers and families of those living with ADRD.
  • Robotic Pets for Home-Bound Seniors: DOEA began delivering over 375 therapeutic robotic pets to socially isolated seniors and adults living with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD). The interactive pets help combat social isolation and depression among older individuals and people living with ADRD by improving overall mood and quality of life. Family caregivers may experience a reduction in stress and caregivers benefit when companion pets allow increased engagement with the older adult and their environment.
  • The Talk It Out Mental Health Initiative: DOEA is spearheading Talk It Out, Florida encouraging Florida seniors to reach out to people they trust to reduce anxiety, depression or loneliness during social distancing.

DOEA is also highlighting the following mental health resource available to older Floridians:

  • Florida’s Toll-Free Elder Helpline – 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337)
    Florida’s SHINE program (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) is a free program offered by DOEA and your local Area Agency on Aging. Specially trained volunteers can assist you with your Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance questions by providing one-on-one counseling and information. SHINE services are free, unbiased and confidential. Call the State Elder Helpline at 1-800-963-5337 or the Local Elder Helpline at 1-800-262-2243.

Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs: Mental Health Resources

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs is sharing the following resources with Florida veterans:

  • For veterans in crisis or those who are concerned, help is available at the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, and press 1, or text 838255, or chat www.VeteransCrisisLine.net.
  • Veterans in Florida may also call the Florida Veterans Support Line at 1-844-MyFLVet (693-5838).
  • The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay provides suicide prevention and crisis management services for veterans via a 24-hour 2-1-1 Coordinated Call Center: https://www.crisiscenter.com/
  • The VA COVID Coach app was created to support self-care and overall mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/COVID_coach_app.asp
  • Veterans and their families are encouraged to find their nearest Vet Center and call to get connected to counseling services or reach out to the 24/7 Vet Center Call Center at 1-877-927-8387. Many Vet Centers are using telehealth services through VA Video Connect and can also speak to individuals via phone to reduce any barriers to seeking necessary help.
  • To connect veterans with earned services, benefits and support, contact a teleworking FDVA Veterans’ Claims Examiner by calling 727-319-7440 and they’ll return your call within 24 hours. You may also contact them via e-mail at VSO@fdva.state.fl.us  to contact the State Women Veterans’ Coordinator, call 727-319-7418 or e-mail ThomasV@fdva.state.fl.us.If you need support or know of any woman veteran in need of support, you may also contact your local VA Medical Center or text the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-VA-WOMEN (829-6636).

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