TAMPA, Fla. — Top officials in Florida want brave and dedicated first responders to have better access to mental health resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the Tampa Firefighter Museum on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a $4.9 million grant through Florida's Department of Children and Families to improve the state's 211 crisis hotline system.
"Mental health is something that's been underlooked for too long," DeSantis said. "We really believe that focusing on this is important."
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One of the main goals is to hire actual first responders to answer 211 crisis calls, so that police officers and firefighters who are in distress have a peer to talk to.
"They need an outlet, they need a peer, they need someone that they can call, they know that they can relate to who understands what they endure day in and day out," said First Lady Casey DeSantis.
Officials pointed to a similar program that's seen success at the Tampa Bay Crisis Center, in which veterans in need of mental health help are patched through to a veteran calltaker who can connect with them on a more personal level.
"One thing we've learned about mental health is the relateability and the ability to talk to a peer," Casey DeSantis said. "These are heroic men and women who see some of the most unbelievable things day in and day out, and yet they come home to their families, they put on a good face, they do what they need to do to be the best people possible. But we know that it's tough."
In addition to the DCF grant, Gov. DeSantis said Florida is allocating more than $23 million from the federal CARES Act to support the state's mental health system.
"The effects of the pandemic on mental health have been significant, and these funds are an important resource to help Floridians recover from COVID-19," DeSantis said.
$18 million will go toward community-based services for adults and children, and another $4.5 million will be used to enhance mental health treatment facilities throughout Florida.
"This will allow for comprehensive care to be provided in the community, and hopefully decrease Baker Acts, emergency room visits, and jail utilization," DeSantis said.