Amidst a steady stream of renowned behavioral health experts and caregivers headlining breakout sessions and keynote speeches, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis still found a way to make an impression. The former award-winning television host has made it a point to raise awareness about Florida’s ongoing behavioral health crisis, which includes substance abuse, especially with opioids, as well as other mental health issues.

And there is perhaps no better fit to showcase her Hope for Healing Florida campaign than a three-day conference hosted by the newly-minted Florida Behavioral Health Association (FBHA), a merger between the Florida Council for Community Mental Health and the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association. Both have long histories of advocacy on behalf of Florida’s behavioral health industry. The two groups, now united, form the state’s largest trade association representing community behavioral health treatment providers. FBHA said in a release that it is committed to bringing renewed attention and awareness to mental health and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery in Florida.

And First Lady DeSantis helped do just that during her keynote speech in Orlando today. She cut right to the chase, challenging people in the industry to measure their performance and make adjustments.

“At the end of the day its very simple. With the $2 billion that the state is spending annually on mental health and substance abuse, are we moving the needle forward or are we not? And if not why not?” DeSantis said. “We need to stop and take a look at where we are and where we hope to go forward. And I have said if there are best practices and we need to do more I will be one of the first people running to the legislature advocating for more that we can do to support the people of this state.”

DeSantis also called attention to prevention and early detection as one of the cornerstones of the Hope for Healing Florida initiative, pointing out that nine out of ten adults working through addiction problems began their chemical dependency before the age of eighteen.

“The First Lady has demonstrated a true commitment to helping those with mental illness and substance use disorder,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, President and CEO of the Florida Behavioral Health Association. “From her Hope for Healing Florida campaign and listening sessions to telehealth portals for students in Northwest Florida for mental health services, the First Lady has been on the forefront of bold new initiatives in the behavioral health arena.”

The conference closes later today. But for additional information, FBHA announced it’s new Twitter account @Floridabha1, and website at www.floridabha.org, which contains a Resource Center with information on behavioral health treatment, prevention and recovery services, and much more. The new association will retain its offices in Tallahassee.