Industry leaders discuss options for filling behavioral healthcare gaps for Florida youth


Shane Ersland


Many youth are not able to get the behavioral health treatment they need, and industry leaders discussed options for filling those care gaps at the 2024 Florida State of Reform Health Policy Conference in April.

Lisa Spector, developmental medicine provider at Nemours Children’s Health, said six million U.S. children have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), while 5.5 million have been diagnosed with anxiety problems, and 5.2 million have behavioral disorders. 

“And only about 50 percent with anxiety are being treated, and about 60 percent of them with behavioral disorders are getting treatment,” Spector said. “We all know there’s a mental health crisis in our country for youth and adults. And many children go untreated.”

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There are many barriers to care, including transportation, language restrictions, workforce shortages, and insurance-related issues, Spector said. 

“But young children, particularly, aren’t getting therapy,” she said. “If kids are not getting therapy at a young age, it impacts them as adults. If we can prioritize parents and give them the tools they need, that’s where we’re going to make a huge difference.”

Health Management Associates Principal Roxanne Kennedy said a lack of in-home services is a major barrier to children’s behavioral health treatment. 

“In Florida, there’s a gap of care (in) having enough practitioners willing and trained to go into the home and teach the family. It’s a workforce issue across the country. Telehealth is great in many aspects, but having someone in the home teaching the parents skills is something our system lacks.”

— Kennedy

Derek McCarron, chief pediatric officer at Gracepoint Wellness, said most in-home programs are driven by a desire to keep someone out of long-term residential care. 

“We’re talking with children that are teetering between going to a long-term residential facility or staying in the community,” McCarron said. “The other option is partial hospitalizations or intensive outpatient (care), which are currently being provided primarily virtually. I don’t know about you guys, but my kiddos aren’t going to sit there virtually for three hours a day.”

Erica Floyd-Thomas, assistant secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health at the Florida Department of Children & Families, said there aren’t enough opportunities for respite services in the state. 

“When you think about services that are covered by health plans, that’s something that’s often not covered. There’s also [a lack of] short-term residential treatment services. We currently have just one short-term residential treatment service in (Citrus Health Network); Citrus in Miami does that.”

— Floyd-Thomas

Florida providers also need to focus more on providing peers for youth, Floyd-Thomas said.

“We know that having a youth peer is beneficial,” she said. “We want to make sure we have somebody who’s qualified, certified, and can engage in conversations with our youth in an appropriate manner about mental health and their well-being.”

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