BCSO unveils new plan to help people dealing with mental illness and substance abuse

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 9:09 PM CDT
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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Mental illness and substance abuse is a growing problem across our country and here locally. That’s why the Bay County Sheriff’s Office is taking a new approach to address those issues.

The new initiative is called “The Care Coordinator Program.” BCSO is partnering with the Northwest Florida Health Network to make sure people struggling with substance abuse or mental illness are not forgotten.

“In this line of work we see people on their darkest day, the worst day of their life. In very bad situations, and a lot of times people are looking to us to help solve the problems,” said Sheriff Tommy Ford, Bay County Sheriff’s Office. “Sometimes there are some frustrations when we got somebody we want to help, that sometimes we don’t know what resources are out there.”

The program will help deputies identify people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse and then they will refer the person to a care coordinator. The care coordinator will then assist the person in finding the help they need.

“Through this Care Coordination program, our goal is that we can get them connected through a warm handoff, with the next level of care that’s most appropriate for them,” Ann Wing, Northwest Florida Health Network Circuit Network Manager said.

According to Mental Health America, 19 percent of adults are experiencing a mental illness. That’s equivalent to over 47 million Americans. The state of Florida ranks in the top five, nearly 3 million people have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Ford said the care coordinators have already made an impact in the community in the short time the program has been active.

“We’ve already seen dividends in this, where we are able to go out and make contact with people that our patrol deputies have been with, the night before. And just recognize the need and refer that to our care coordinators,” Ford said.

“I’ve made contact with seven people in the last week. All seven have entered care coordination, they have all accepted services,” McKenzie Galbreath, one of the care coordinators said.

Galbreath is also currently in contact with another man. She said he has reached out for help and is actively pursuing a detox program to address his alcoholism.

Ford said the law enforcement side of things will stay the same, the new program just gives another tool to help people get care. Currently, you have to contact BCSO to get ahold of a care coordinator. However, in the future, Sheriff Ford wants to add a direct line for the program.

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