Pilot mental health services program for Sarasota County children and youth expected to begin Feb. 1

Moran refrains from voting over potential conflict of interest issue regarding Teen Court

Commissioner Michael Moran. File image

With County Commission Chair Michael Moran refraining from voting on Jan. 10, his colleagues unanimously approved the establishment of a Licensed Mental Health Reimbursement Pilot Program to serve children and youth.

Commissioner Neil Rainford made the motion, and Commissioner Mark Smith seconded it.

During the board’s regular meeting on Dec. 12, Moran proposed the initiative, explaining that the idea came out of a discussion he had had with leaders of four nonprofit organizations that serve young people in the county: Michelle Kapreilian, CEO of the Forty Carrots Family Center in Sarasota; Kristie Skoglund, CEO of the Florida Center for Early Childhood in Sarasota; Heather Todd, executive director of Teen Court; and Helene Lotman, president and CEO of the JFCS of the Suncoast.

Moran added that they had talked about the potential use of part of the balance of the county money set aside for behavioral health care providers for the current fiscal year. The total amount of that money, Moran said, “is in excess of a million dollars.”

The goal with the pilot program, he continued, would be to try to get licensed mental health care professionals into the homes of families with at-risk youth. However, he noted, telehealth visits also could be utilized.

Among those children and youth who could be served, he said, are those in families with substance abuse and domestic violence issues.

One of three types of professionals representing the four nonprofits he had cited would be able to provide services for which the organizations would be reimbursed, Moran added.

A simple form could be used to document the service and the amount of reimbursement sought. He showed his colleagues an example of such a document, with the proposed affidavit on it to be worked out with the Office of the County Attorney. (He volunteered to work with the county legal staff.)

This is the first page of the form that Commissioner Mike Moran provided his colleagues ahead of the Jan. 10 discussion. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This is the affidavit on the form, as shown in the materials provided in the Jan. 10 agenda packet. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The not-to-exceed rate per hour would be $150, Moran added, and none of the four nonprofits could receive more than $50,000 during the pilot period.

Moran proposed that the pilot program begin on Feb. 1 and end on July 31. Then, in August, he said, the commissioners could discuss the results and decide whether to make the program permanent.

During the Open to the Public comment period at the start of the Jan. 10 commission meeting, held in downtown Sarasota, Skogland of the Florida Center voiced support for implementing the pilot program.

“These services will not only have immediate positive effects,” she said, “but they will also bring about long-term fiscal benefits. Investing in children’s mental health services can significantly contribute to preventing future challenges and expenses related to [treatment of] severe mental health [problems] down the road.”

Forging ahead

With Moran having been chosen as chair of the board this year, he had listed on the Jan. 10 agenda another discussion of the pilot program as part of his report to his colleagues.

Before offering any comments about the program itself, he announced, “Out of an abundance of caution, I will not be voting on this today.”

Moran added, “I don’t think there’s an ounce of conflict here today,” but, he indicated that after having talked with County Attorney Joshua Moye, he wanted to “wait to hear from the state Ethics Commission” about whether he could vote on any issue related to Teen Court without an appearance of having a conflict of interest.

Lori Moran. Image from the Teen Court website

Moran’s wife, Lori, is the chief operating officer of Teen Court.

If any of his colleagues wished to act on the pilot program proposal that day, Moran continued, he would pass the gavel to Vice Chair Joe Neunder.

“I’m excited,” Neunder said, referring to the program’s potential. “Let’s get this thing going.”

Neunder added, “I think the timing’s right,” indicating that a vote that day to proceed would enable county legal and administrative staff to complete any additional work before the launch of the initiative on Feb. 1.

“I look forward to seeing the results of this,” Rainford said after making the motion to move forward, without elucidating any details. “I think it’s a measurable way of looking at [the provision of mental health services to children and youth].”

Smith added, “It’s very important that we stay on top of, if not in front of, the mental health issues that we have before our county …”

Following their remarks, County Attorney Moye asked for clarification that the motion was to authorize the launch of the program, after the Office of the County Attorney had drafted the final necessary documents and County Administrator Jonathan Lewis had signed off on them.

Rainford affirmed that that was his intent.

Then Commissioner Ron Cutsinger also expressed support of the initiative. “I really want to see expanding services” to people who need them but are not getting them. Nonetheless, he pointed out that he is not in favor of the county’s paying for programs that can be funded through other means, including state and federal grants.

Cutsinger added his hope that, at the end of the pilot program, “We will have a very robust discussion about how this has gone.”

Neunder thanked Moran for the time and the amount of research he had put into the proposal.

The unanimous vote of approval followed.

1 thought on “Pilot mental health services program for Sarasota County children and youth expected to begin Feb. 1”

  1. This is a great idea and very much needed. However, if the state adopted Medicaid Expansion, most of these children probably would be eligible to be covered, with the federal government paying 90% of costs. That would mean the county would only need to pay 10% instead of 100% think of all the additional children that could be helped!

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