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David Santiago: My Florida Network of Care for Behavioral Health — A lifeline in times of need | Opinion

Florida Rep. David Santiago

Over the past year, we have unfortunately seen many Florida families impacted by heart-wrenching tragedies. What each of these tragedies has shown us is the need for a greater emphasis on connecting Floridians with the services they need.

If you have ever cared for a loved one facing a behavioral health concern, you have probably seen firsthand how challenging it can be to know what to do, where to begin, where to go next. The system can be very confusing and frustrating to understand and navigate due to the fragmented way crisis or behavioral health services have developed, coupled with the lack of a single, easily accessible place to find what you need when you need it.

Here in Florida, we are working to change that, which is why I fought for funding to establish the My Florida Network of Care for Behavioral Health community website. The site, which is housed at the Florida Department of Children and Families, was recently introduced to behavioral health providers across the state and is now available to the general public. The Network of Care program puts vital information about local services and crisis intervention programs at a person’s fingertips. The result is that a person or family can much more easily get the right help at the right time.

Network of Care was developed to help Floridians struggling with mental health and substance use issues quickly locate local programs and services to make informed choices about what they need. The web-based portal also provides quick access to local emergency and crisis intervention programs, as well as a library of more than 30,000 articles, fact sheets and interactive tools. The portal is also free of charge and commercial-free.

In 2003, former President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recommended states consider Trilogy IR’s portal which offered a cost-effective, easy-to-use gateway for connecting people to services in their communities. Since its launch, Network of Care is now operating in almost 30 states and has served more than 30 million people nationwide through its online offerings.

And to ensure that this resource remains available to Floridians, I have filed legislation again this year to continue funding Network of Care. HB 2645 has already passed out of one committee and I look forward to seeing it through the legislative process.

My colleague Rep. David Smith has also filed similar legislation, HB 3271, authorizing funding for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs to expand the Network of Care to veterans, military service members and their families. The expanded portal would provide information about local, state and federal military programs and services, online messaging boards and support groups, employment databases for returning service members.

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