Seminole County, Fla. – The mental health partnership in Seminole County that has done so much good for so many people is no longer in crisis.
In early 2021, News 6 reported extensively on a partnership developed by the Lake Mary Police Department called “MHIG” – the Mental Health Intervention Group.
By all accounts, MHIG was addressing the needs of people struggling with their mental health, so they stayed healthy, out of the hospital, and had fewer run-ins with the police.
So what happened?
Jamie Grover, executive director of the Sanford-based Special Needs Advocacy Program, an MHIG provider and a key component of the partnership, said MHIG — all volunteers — couldn’t survive without funding and no one was willing to fund it.
“It breaks my heart that that program is not funded because we get so many referrals from our police department,” Grover said. “Most of them are at-risk youth who were repeat offenders.”
Grover, through her nonprofit SNAP, provides counseling to children in crisis and especially children with special needs who have had previous contact with the police or the hospital. Many of them children came to her through MHIG.
“Oh, I think so [MHIG] So badly needed,” Grover said. “I can tell you in a short period of time that we have engaged in over 23 referrals. I was seeing 18 kids every week. That’s 18 hours of my time, plus about half an hour to do post-hours paper work. And I can tell you right now, I still see all nine of my original children [that came to him through MHIG]”
Grover was only one component of the mental health intervention group. It was a Seminole County-wide partnership of counselors, doctors, pharmacists, food pantries, social workers, churches and synagogues brought together by the Lake Mary Police Department to meet the needs of anyone in mental health crisis, including children in crisis.
The way it worked was partners like Grover were notified by Lake Mary police or South Seminole Hospital when someone in crisis came to the hospital or came into contact with the police.
MHIG partners were calling clients, making home visits, delivering meals, even mowing lawns if there was an underlying need. MHIG was coping with the pressure, keeping clients out of hospitals and avoiding confrontations with the police.
But everything costs money. Everyone involved, including Grover, was donating their time and resources that, according to Grover, could not keep up, especially coordinating — making referrals, calling, arranging and following up.
So Grover and SNAP, her special needs child counseling center, offered to do just that by hiring a full-time coordinator for $50,000 a year. Grover asked Lake Mary to pay $50,000.
The Lake Mary Police Department declined Grover’s offer.
A spokesperson told News 6 MHIG that the disbandment was due to “internal conflict” and that the police department is trying to do something different. Modeled after the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office’s successful mental health program, the department’s Behavioral Services Unit will essentially replace MHIG. But Lake Mary’s new program is still “in its early stages” and “many issues are still being discussed and fine-tuned,” according to a department spokeswoman.
Grover said Children in Crisis have fallen through the cracks since MHIG disbanded.
“I know when we stopped, when we finally said we couldn’t do it anymore, I know there were probably about 30 or 40 people that were still on the case file that still hadn’t been seen,” Grover said. “And not seen until today.”
Grover said disbanding MIGH “crushed her heart” because her $50,000 request to hire a coordinator was a drop in the bucket compared to the cost to the children, their families and the community.
“They are [the children who did not receive counseling] could have gone back into the system,” Grover said. “I’ll guarantee you, back in the system.”
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