St Johns County Sheriff David Shoar told local Historic City News reporters in St Augustine that, somewhere along the line, the county has lost essential mental health treatment options that now place an increased, and perhaps misplaced, burden on law enforcement.
Shoar, who has been campaigning for a local detox center, addressed the League of Women Voters at their January meeting — saying that, as St. Johns County’s mental health treatment programs vanish, law enforcement is left holding the bag.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to who gets what,” Shoar said. “We’re going to have to make some hard decisions.”
Some 30 years ago, Shoar recalled that deputies or emergency services personnel in St Augustine would take the mentally ill to Flagler Hospital or Twin Oaks; the mental health center that was formerly located on US-1 South. “Now the sick and addicted end up in jail,” Shoar remarked.
“A full 25 percent of jail inmates in the St Johns County Detention Facility don’t belong behind bars,” Shoar said. “Unfortunately, the sheriff’s office has no other place to take them where they will be safe and get care.”
According to the Sheriff, the jail’s “Crisis Intervention Team”, deputies who are educated in mental health issues and substance abuse, are insufficient and cost taxpayers dearly.
In recent months, St Johns County Assistant County Administrator, Jerry Cameron, announced that mental health workers employed by the Health and Human Services department were being laid off in favor of an ostensibly lower-cost, private contract from Putnam-St Johns Behavioral Healthcare.
When the news reached some county residents who have family members who depend on the facility for mental health services, they were enraged. Cameron and County Administrator Michael Wanchick temporarily placated them with promises of uninterrupted, “equivalent care”.
Since that time, the administration has announced the sale of the Health and Human Services building to a national home improvement warehouse and plans to replace it by building a new facility adjacent to the County Administration palace on San Sebastian View — but no word on resuming mental health and substance abuse treatment in the new building.
A few weeks ago, the State of Florida announced the cancelation of the county’s contract with Putnam-St Johns Behavioral Healthcare — allegedly because of unpaid debts the Department of Children and Families says the company owes the state.
“Our community has regressed in mental health care,” Shoar told the attendees. “We spend more on beach renourishment than human renourishment.”
Shoar, himself a Middle East War Veteran, asked the league to become involved in responding to this issue. He predicted homelessness and mental health problems will increase as other veterans return from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer