Twelve years ago, Republican lawmakers in Florida championed an initiative to reduce the size of state government and make the state’s mental health and abuse services more effective and responsive to local needs. But this week, the Florida Senate is considering legislation that would reverse course and create a new office at the Department of Children and Families with a $13.5 million budget and would require over 100 new employees to operate.
The move would be a major step backward for the state, which has traveled this path before. Prior to 2008, Florida’s Department of Children and Families, the agency responsible for the welfare of hundreds of thousands of children and families across the state, had direct responsibility for contracting with hundreds of different mental health and substance abuse services to provide care.
Lawmakers at the time were concerned with wasteful spending and duplicative services, and proposed a decentralized system that pushed contracting authority to local communities who better understood their particular needs. Testimony from then-State Senator Ronda Storms, a Republican from the Tampa area, made the case for an improved, decentralized system to the Governmental Operations Committee:
“DCF must negotiate and monitor over 600 separate provider contracts with community agencies. At the community level, there is no single entity responsible for creating a single system of care from independently operated services. There are costly, duplicative, and regulatory functions being carried out because state purchasing and monitoring is not coordinated. It is expected that managing entities will increase the integration of substance abuse and mental health services for consumers with co-occuring disorders.”
Storms’ testimony at the time carried the day, and the proposal ultimately became law. For the past 12 years, it has helped significantly reduce costs for taxpayers while improving the efficiency of substance abuse and mental health services across the state.
Florida currently has managing entities in place with a regional presence – seven in all – that currently run the program with thorough systems in place to assess providers and ensure that they meet criteria provided by both the Legislature and the Department with adequate accountability and reporting. When a program is not functioning the way it should, these managing entities can hold providers accountable and ensure that corrective action plans are quickly developed to get the programs back on track.
The “new” proposal, SB1326, known as the “DCF Accountability Act,” would do away with the regional system and would reverse course to bring Florida back to a system that was scrapped more than a decade earlier.