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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida Senate backs a bill on behavioral health teaching hospitals

The exterior of a yellow and brown building. On it in white letters, reads, "Tampa General Hospital."
Thomas Iacobucci
The bill would designate four behavioral health teaching hospitals linked to universities, including Tampa General Hospital, which partners with USF.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a plan that would designate at least four behavioral health teaching hospitals. Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida are included.

The Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a plan that would designate at least four behavioral health teaching hospitals, as lawmakers look to improve care for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

“This is the next step in really modernizing the whole system of mental health,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said. “When you look at the problem that we have, not just in the state of Florida but across the country, in the whole mental health, substance abuse issues, we have got to address that. It came to the forefront during the (COVID-19) pandemic, certainly, and people began to realize how important mental health and behavioral health is.”

The bill (SB 330), sponsored by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, would designate four behavioral health teaching hospitals linked to universities. They would be Tampa General Hospital and the University of South Florida; UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and the University of Florida; UF Health Jacksonville and the University of Florida; and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and the University of Miami.

Also, it would allow the state Agency for Health Care Administration to designate four more behavioral health teaching hospitals over the next two years.

A House version of the bill (HB 1617), sponsored by House Health Care Appropriations Chair Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, has moved through committees and is positioned to go to the full House. The Senate made changes Wednesday to its bill, with Boyd indicating the Senate and House have tried to work out differences.

The Senate bill would provide $100 million a year over the next three years to the behavioral health teaching hospitals, with additional money provided for such things as residency positions for psychiatrists.

For example, the bill during the upcoming 2024-25 fiscal year would provide $6 million for 10 residency positions at each of the four designated teaching hospitals through what is known as the state’s “Slots for Doctors Program.” It would provide another $6 million for residency slots if additional teaching hospitals are designated.

Also, it would provide $5 million for a newly created Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida. The teaching hospitals would work with the center about behavioral health workforce issues.

In addition, the bill would require teaching hospitals to take steps such as working with the universities on programs for students in colleges of medicine, nursing, psychology, social work and public health “related to the entire continuum of behavioral health care, including, at a minimum, screening, therapeutic and supportive services, community outpatient care, crisis stabilization, short-term residential treatment and long-term care,” the bill said.

“This (bill) is groundbreaking in terms of mental health and teaching hospitals in the state of Florida,” Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who has long worked on behavioral health issues, said Wednesday.

The bill has been linked to a broader effort by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, to increase the number of doctors in the state and expand access to health care. The Senate and House have passed a plan that Passidomo’ calls the “Live Healthy” proposal, which is ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

While Passidomo’s plan would address a broad swath of health-care issues — from increasing medical-residency slots to trying to provide care outside emergency rooms for patients with non-emergency conditions — the Boyd and Garrison bills are more narrowly focused on behavioral health.

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Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.