Starting on the local level to help answer a national need, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, in a partnership with USF Health, has launched Project Reach, a youth mental health initiative with funding from Hillsborough County. The initiative is led by USF Health faculty members Dr. Adam Lewin (lead investigator), Dr. Alison Salloum and Dr. Eric Storch. It results from recommendations of a Mental Health Task Force created by the commission under the leadership of County Commissioner Sandra Murman and Dr. John Curran, associate vice president at USF Health. The Task Force included Dr. John Petrila and Dr. Steve Freedman from the College of Public Health and Dr. David Orban from the Morsani College of Medicine.
The commission voted on August 1 to invest $2 million in the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan specifically for the creation of a pilot program to better address mental health needs of children. The increase represents the first investment by the HCHCP in mental health, and is designed to integrate physical and behavioral health care by providing care in four county community health centers to children at risk for mental illness.
County commissioners created the Hillsborough County Health Care Plan in 1991 to ensure access to health care for low-income, uninsured residents. The fund provides care to approximately 30,000 residents a year who do not qualify for other coverage. However, the plan historically did not cover mental health services. Last fall, the commission created a Mental Health Task Force to consider whether and how the fund should cover behavioral health services. The task force represented an ongoing partnership between USF Health and the county, and the result is the pilot project.
As many as 20 percent of children ages 7-15 years have mental illness causing significant impairment across multiple domains. Without adequate treatment, these problems persist into adulthood, increasing the risk for further mental health problems including suicide, violence, substance abuse or other antisocial behavior.