Flagler County and Volusia County agencies, including the AdventHealth and Halifax Health hospital systems, recently completed a survey to assess the community’s health needs, according to Flagler Cares CEO Carrie Baird. Results are still be analyzed and released at a future date, but Baird discussed the community’s challenges Friday, May 13, on WNZF’s “Free For All Friday,” alongside Florida Department of Health-Flagler Officer Robert Snyder, and DOH-Flagler Medical Director Steve Bickel.
The three priorities identified in the survey were 1) access to behavioral health services, which includes mental health, suicide prevention and substance abuse programs; 2) economic and social barriers, including help for housing and child care; and 3) system infrastructure, including the ability to communicate what resources are available in the two-county community.
“Every day, we get calls to our office about people who are still falling behind in paying their rent or utilities, and a lot of the COVID-funded resources … have gone away,” Baird said. “There is a state program (but) you had to have access to the internet and you had to figure out how to apply. … People don’t know where to go; they just they call everywhere asking, ‘Who can help me pay my rent this month?’
“Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple place,” she continued. Some organizations or programs are funded, but only for a limited time. “That’s why Flagler Cares has created our one-stop where you can call us and we will figure out the resources, trying to be that middleman between people in need and the services that we know exist.”
Some people don’t know how to define the help they need.
“Mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues are often tangled together,” Baird said, “It’s really anyone who doesn’t feel OK. … We can screen people and find out what challenges they want to tackle first.”
Flagler Cares’ four navigators, which are full-time employees who give one-on-one attention to anyone who calls for help, take on about 100 new clients in a month.
Snyder said Flagler County has the eighth highest per capita death rate related to overdoses in Florida. “We need to do something about that,” he said, and the health department will be getting a grant to provide resources.
LINC FLAGLER VOLUSIA
Another initiative launched by Flagler Cares is LINC, which stands for Linking Individuals to Networks of Care.
LINC Flagler Volusia is a multi-agency data system that enables 20 providers to send referrals to a network of other service providers on behalf of individuals seeking assistance.
“Just the school year, over 1,000 students have been identified as having a behavioral health need and been referred to a behavioral health provider,” Baird said. (Flagler Schools has about 13,000 students total.) “That’s what’s beautiful about a school district: There are so many adults caring adults who have contact with students every day and can identify when something’s wrong.”
Identifying a need is the first step; finding a medical professional who can help is another challenge.
Baird said some health insurance providers have zero approved mental health doctors in Flagler County. That’s in part because there is a shortage around the country.
However, Snyder offered hope.
“There’s a solution to this,” he said. “It’s called telehealth.”
Baird said Flagler Cares has contracted with telehealth providers, and if someone doesn’t have internet access, the patient can go to the Flagler Cares office and will be provided a computer to use for a telehealth appointment.
“And then, if they have a prescription based on that appointment, we can also help them with our new pharmacy program,” Baird said. “So we’re trying to chip away at all of the barriers so that people can come to our office and access services outside our community.”
Young children don’t respond as well to telehealth, “but teenagers love it,” Baird said.
The pandemic forced a lot of meetings to go virtual, and that has proven to be an efficient solution for mental health appointments.
“Your typical medication management appointment with a psychiatrist is 15 minutes,” Baird said. If the appointment is in person, “you’re driving 45 minutes for a 15-minute appointment.”
Snyder said the health department, located in Bunnell, plans to have a presence at Flagler County Village, in City Marketplace, in the future, considering 92% of the health department’s clients live in Palm Coast.
SOCIAL VENTURE CAPITAL?
Another announcement coming soon, in July, is a project that will provide even more resources for coordinating care in the community. The health department’s medical director, Dr. Stephen Bickel, called it a “social venture capital initiative, where we’re going to use some of the venture capital principals to help organizations grow to deliver services that aren’t here now.