First Lady of Florida: mental health help coming for Panhandle students
News Herald - 6/26/2019
Jun. 26--CALLAWAY -- Recognizing the mental health needs of Florida Panhandle students after Hurricane Michael, First Lady of Florida Casey DeSantis announced Wednesday telehealth is coming to school districts affected by the storm.
"For our precious children, many of whom we still know are still suffering in the wake of Michael, we are announcing the installation of telehealth for mental health services in all public schools in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Franklin and Liberty counties," DeSantis said at the Callaway Fire Station. "This will serve more than 35,000 students for their mental health needs."
The services are expected to be available on the first day of the school year. Officials will work with school districts to make sure services are ready.
"While our needs are still great and ongoing, we are very grateful for the support we continue to receive. Today's announcement of the addition of new telehealth sites (to now include one in every school) is yet another piece of the mental health support puzzle we continue to try to solve for our students and their families," Bay District Superintendent Bill Husfelt said in a statement. "We are looking forward to this much-needed expansion and we're very grateful for the support."
The coming telehealth services was one of five post-hurricane avenues of help DeSantis discussed in regard to mental health help for children and Panhandle residents after the category 5 storm landed in October and devastated parts of the region, including Bay County.
"Second, in coordination with our federal partners, the Florida Department of Children and Families will receive an additional $2.3 million to expand outreach services with the Crisis Counseling Program," DeSantis said.
Other help DeSantis mentioned was a $1.25 million award to Bay County from the U.S. Department of Education to improve mental health which was announced during a school board meeting Tuesday, the hiring of a director of mental health response and recovery of by the Florida Division of Emergency Management as directed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the securing of 100 travel trailers from FEMA by the Florida Division of Emergency Management at no cost to the state for people needing housing.
"Hurricane Michael caused major disruptions to the lives and daily routines of students, parents and teachers alike," U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated in a news release. "While the state has recovered from most of the physical damage caused by the storm, many in Bay County are still working to recover emotionally. This SERV grant will help fill that need. I want to commend Sen. (Marco) Rubio, Sen. (Rick) Scott and Gov. and First Lady DeSantis for their commitment to the students of Bay County and Northwest Florida. We will continue to partner with them to ensure students get access to the resources and counseling they need to heal."
The director of mental health response and recovery is a position that "does not currently exist," DeSantis said. "This is a person that will be deployed to the affected areas across the state to understand and utilize mental health support services to provide those to people in the community quickly. This person, once they are hired, their first stop is going to be Bay County."
As for the housing trailers, DeSantis said while "this does not permanently solve the problem, we hope to provide additional temporary housing solutions and different options for residents" as long-term solutions are sought.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said DeSantis has made mental health a priority during the recovery.
"We are going to be having a new program, new person, dealing with mental health, helping coordinate the mental health recovery and response both in the immediacy of the disaster but also in the long-term," Moskowitz said. "Housing, as we know, has been a huge issue. We have now 100 travel trailers we secured for free as a donation from FEMA and as soon as we got them, we got them down to the local area. You guys run your programs the best. We gave 80 travel trailers to Bay County, 20 travel trailers to Jackson County and we have 10 more we're securing for Calhoun County."
Husfelt said all the help is "wonderful and we are sincerely grateful to every single person and agency who is playing a part in our recovery."
"Our needs, however, continue to outweigh the support we have and so we will continue to try to leverage all of the resources possible to serve our children, their families and our employees," Husfelt said.
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