Today, Wolfson Children’s Hospital previewed its new 20-bed Behavioral Health and Wellness Unit and recognized members of the Northeast Florida Legislative Delegation for their instrumental support in championing critical funding for this effort. The 2023-2024 state budget signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis included a $5 million appropriation to support this new unit, which will reduce wait times for children and adolescents by 50 percent.
Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital leaders thanked these legislators for their commitment to addressing Florida’s pediatric behavioral health crisis and highlighted how this will make a significant impact in meeting the need for pediatric and adolescent behavioral health services in the region.
“There is no health without mental health, and Baptist Health has made it our mission to address this critical need for Northeast Florida and beyond, for adults and children,” said Michael A. Mayo, DHA, FACHE, president and CEO of Baptist Health, which includes Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
“We are grateful to Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for their support of this critically needed resource,” added Dr. Mayo. “We especially want to thank the Northeast Florida Legislative Delegation for their advocacy, which includes the House and Senate sponsors – Representative Wyman Duggan and Senator Clay Yarborough – as well as other members of the Delegation, including Representative Sam Garrison, Chairman Tom Leek, Speaker Paul Renner, Senator Tracie Davis and Senator Jennifer Bradley, who each recognized how vital this project is to families in our community and region.”
There is a huge demand and need for pediatric and adolescent behavioral health services in Northeast Florida, which was only exacerbated by the pandemic and its impact on youth. Unfortunately, due to low Medicaid reimbursement, many providers do not have the resources to invest in inpatient pediatric behavioral health beds. Currently, there are only 66 pediatric inpatient behavioral health beds between Daytona Beach and Fernandina Beach. The additional 20 beds provided in this new unit will make a significant impact in helping meet this need.
“Northeast Florida has long been challenged to match limited mental health resources for children and adolescents with the overwhelming demand for this specialized type of care,” said Allegra C. Jaros, MBA, president of Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “As a primary provider of inpatient pediatric mental health services, Wolfson Children’s Hospital has worked with state legislators and community organizations to find creative solutions to help fill gaps in services where we can support struggling families. We are so grateful for the investment from Governor DeSantis and Florida legislators, which will impact the lives of families for generations to come.”
Addressing Florida’s pediatric behavioral health crisis has risen as a key focus for members of the Florida Legislature.
"In the face of growing challenges in behavioral health, Florida stands at a critical crossroads where our approach to behavioral health requires strategic, comprehensive planning,” said Representative Garrison. “The rising rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, especially among our youth, call for immediate action. Working closely with dedicated organizations like Baptist Health, we are taking essential steps toward providing accessible behavioral health services. Together, we're not just outlining a plan of attack, but actively paving the way for a brighter, healthier future for all."
“We value the collaboration of healthcare leaders like Baptist Health in addressing this crucial issue in our community,” said Senator Yarborough. “This unit will provide targeted care for the youngest members of our community during their most vulnerable moments. By providing specialized services for those facing behavioral health crises, we are ensuring a more resilient and supported generation.”
“Our state’s children and their families deserve accessible, specialized care,” said Representative Duggan. “This unit will not only save lives, it will support entire families faced with a mental health crisis.”
Opening to patients in March 2024, this unit will significantly expand Wolfson Children’s Hospital’s capacity to care for children and teens requiring hospitalization for serious mental health conditions. In addition to inpatient and partial hospitalization behavioral health services, Wolfson Children’s Hospital provides outpatient consultation, evaluation, and treatment for children and adolescents.