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A Mental Health Crisis Caused by an Insurance Dispute

More than a month after the hurricane, the unit that handles some of the area’s most severe and immediate mental health cases remains closed. We are facing a mental health crisis. What if the trauma center at Lee Memorial Hospital closed indefinitely? If car-accident patients and gunshot victims had to seek care elsewhere? We as a community would not stand for it.  

Yet that is exactly what has happened to SalusCare in Fort Myers. The storm swamped SalusCare’s Crisis Stabilization Unit. Flood waters caused moisture to rise two feet up the walls. Yet our wind adjuster and FEMA flood adjuster are determining which is responsible for remediation necessary to operate our 46-bed facility.  

The collective trauma of Ian’s devastation extends well beyond missing roofs and toppled trees. We are a community in an ever-deepening mental health crisis. We are hurting, coping, trying to heal. And we are attempting to do so without the very mental health facility designed to help us.  

Damage from Hurricane Ian is not what is delaying SalusCare’s Crisis Stabilization Unit’s reopening. Instead, the delay is bureaucratic inaction, brought on by FEMA, the government agency meant to assist us during disasters and the wind insurer. Still, neither is acknowledging responsibility for funding repairs necessary to reopen. 

Mental Health Crisis: Closing the Crisis Stabilization Unit

I cannot overstate the vital importance of our Crisis Stabilization Unit. This is where law enforcement takes those who pose dangers to themselves or others. It is where individuals involuntarily committed under Florida’s Baker Act find treatment. People in mental health crisis come here.  

But not for the foreseeable future.  

When SalusCare’s Crisis Stabilization Unit flooded, we did what so many did after the storm. We brought in contractors and started mitigating our damages. We cut out drywall and extricated damaged equipment, moldy furniture, destroyed fixtures. Then FEMA arrived. According to their flood insurance adjuster, we removed too many mildewed, waterlogged materials to determine compensation.  

Now we are having a fight (one that many of us will unfortunately become familiar with) between our flood insurance provider, FEMA, and our insurer. Nothing moves forward util this is resolved.  

How long will that take? Possibly months.  

While such disagreements are frustrating for homeowners, in this case they are also dangerously irresponsible. Cutting off mental health crisis care for a community is flat-out wrong.  

Mental health cannot continue to be an afterthought. Our politicians, officials and citizens would not put up with such a delay were this a fire station, a hospital or a police department. Yet is it OK for a nonprofit public-service facility, one that is essentially an emergency room for mental health triage, to be indefinitely shuttered because of a FEMA insurance dispute?  

Our local, state and federal politicians know the importance of mental health crisis facilities. We need them to speak up with the same urgency they have for other post-Ian needs.  

If we can rebuild bridges, we can and must reopen SalusCare’s Crisis Stabilization Unit and give the public back this crucial resource. We as a community cannot stand for this.  

About the Author

Peter Dennis is a local attorney and member of the SalusCare Board of Directors. This is a response to an Oct. 20 story in The News-Press.  

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