HCA Florida West Hospital will continue to accept Baker Act patients beyond the Nov. 15 deadline it originally declared as the cut-off date.
Florida West Hospital set a 90-day deadline in August to stop accepting mental health patients officials deemed dangerous under Florida’s Baker Act.
Hospital spokesman Kendrick Doidge told the News Journal on Friday that those plans have been put on hold indefinitely due to progress being made in setting up a central admissions facility.
“All the partners in the mental health community are coming together to really come up with a solution through Rep. Salzman’s mental health task force,” Doidge said. “There seems to be some real positive movement to create this central reception facility for the community.”
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State Rep. Michelle Salzman said in August that she was working with the local legislative delegation to secure funding for a central intake facility for Baker Act patients.
Salzman, R-Pensacola, told the News Journal on Friday that the Department of Children and Families has committed to funding the creation of a central intake facility, and Lakeview Center will staff and manage the facility.
Doidge said they are encouraged to see all the community partners working together.
“As long as that happens, we’re going to defer that decision in adult patients,” Doidge said.
Escambia County currently has only two receiving centers, Florida West Hospital, which sees about 70 Baker Act patients a week, and Baptist Hospital, which sees about 100 Baker Act patients a week.
The Nov. 15 deadline at Florida West Hospital would mean all Baker Act patients would either be admitted at Baptist Hospital or transferred to distant facilities in Okaloosa or Bay counties.
Florida West Hospital is licensed to treat adult mental health patients only.
The hospital sent out notice in August that it would stop accepting Baker Act patients because it was still accepting teen patients who were stuck waiting to be transferred to Baptist Hospital, which can treat teen mental health patients. Delays also tied up police or ambulance crews for hours until a patient could be seen by a mental health professional.
The Baker Act allows law enforcement officials, a court or doctors to involuntarily commit someone to a mental health evaluation for a minimum of 72 hours if they are a danger to themselves or others. Another law called the Marchman Act deals with substance abuse and allows a person to be involuntarily committed to addiction treatment for up to five days.
After Florida West Hospital sent the notice, local officials negotiated an agreement that ensured that adolescent patients would only be transferred to Baptist Hospital and that both Baptist and Florida West would accept adult Baker Act patients with Florida West for 90 days.
Salzman said that once the central intake facility is up and running, all Baker Act patients will be taken to the intake facility, where they can be quickly evaluated by a Lakeview Center mental health professional and then decide on the best treatment option, whether something that Lakeview or one of the hospitals can provide.
“We definitely need it. We want to move toward it,” Salzman said. “It’s going to eliminate a lot of problems and actually make more space available. Because with the admissions facility, everyone will be taken there. But not everyone needs a bed. So instead of putting everyone in beds to assess them, assess them and then decide if we need a bed , where is the bed and what kind of bed do we need.”
Salzman said the local hospital and county commission will have to approve the agreement to set up the receiving facility before it goes into effect.
Shawn Salamida, president of Lakeview Center, told the News Journal it was good news to hear that Florida West Hospital had canceled the Nov. 15 deadline for Baker Act patients.
Salamida said the Lakeview Center is working to put together an actual budget for the admissions facility, which requires hiring additional staff and possibly renovating one of the Lakeview buildings.
“We are now working hard to investigate this,” Salamida said. “We have a pretty good feel for what the staffing needs would be because we’ve run something similar in the past.”
Salamida said he estimates the reception facility will take nine to 12 months to set up.
In the meantime, Salamida said Lakeview will continue to use mobile response units to send mental health professionals into the community and will look to work with hospitals to integrate staff into their emergency rooms.
“As challenging as this situation is, it’s one of those moments that brought us together as a community,” Salamida said. “We have a level of collaboration and communication that I haven’t seen in this role before, and I think we’re going to get good results because of that.”
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.