Rowden suggests alliance
By Michael D. Bates | Hernando TodayBROOKSVILLE - County Commissioner Diane Rowden said she wanted to do something for the community after the tragic events in Newtown, Conn.
Published: December 19, 2012
Published: December 19, 2012
The school shooting, which claimed the lives of 26 people, has prompted a national debate about gun control and mental illness, Rowden said.
"Firearms are out of this board's control," Rowden said. "But we can do something about mental health."
That debate, she said, is particularly important with the holidays approaching, when instances of mental illness rise.
At Tuesday's meeting, Rowden broached the idea of forming an alliance among the 22 local medical, educational and veterans groups with the idea that it could better secure state and federal funding.
She said some state legislators are already on board with the concept.
Rowden said Florida is last in the nation when it comes to mental illness funding and Hernando County ranks near the bottom statewide.
These groups would continue to exist separately. But they would be part of a larger, overarching alliance with more clout, said David Welch, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Hernando County chapter.
Welch said the shootings in Newtown should be a wake-up call for people here. Hernando County, he said, lags behind other counties in Florida in mental illness funding.
For example, Springbrook Hospital reports an average of 30 children a month are Baker- acted (admitted to a hospital or health facility either voluntarily or involuntarily) because of mental illness problems to facilities outside Hernando County.
The youngest child was 5 years old, Welch said.
Welch said Hernando County's suicide rate is 45 percent higher than Florida's. Its domestic violence rate, while improving, is still 15 percent higher than the state's.
"Hernando County is not in very good shape," he said.
State or federal money could be used for different outreach programs, such as training local law enforcement officers to deal with people in crisis situations.
He cited the case of Inga Swanson, 42, who was fatally shot in October by an off-duty Hernando County sheriff's deputy and a Tampa police officer when she approached them at a Spring Hill home with a gun in her hand.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is continuing to investigate that shooting.
Swanson had been roaming the neighborhood naked at the time and it was likely she was suffering from mental illness, he said.
"I think our community is still in denial about mental illness," he said.
One out of event four people suffer some sort of illness, ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, schizophrenia or some other problem, Welch said.
"People say that Connecticut could never happen here," he said. "I don't believe that for a moment. I believe it could happen here."
Ann-Gayl Ellis, public information officer for the Hernando County Health Department, said she welcomes the opportunity to join a proposed alliance.
"Certainly the health department would like a seat at the table to do what we can to support this initiative," Ellis said.
Any possibility of getting money could be used for community education, she said.
"From the health department perspective, we are supportive and want to keep our community safe and keep us functioning," she said. "We live in a community that is so fast-paced. It's really important that we reach out."
County commissioners will hold a workshop on the proposed initiative on Jan. 15.
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