Golden Gate residents oppose proposed location of Planning Commission Behavioral Health Center

The David Lawrence Center, which has been providing mental health services to Collier County for nearly five decades, did not receive a positive recommendation from the Collier County Planning Commission last week for the location of its new behavioral health center.

The proposed location for the 64,000-square-foot, 102-bed facility is on 5.15 acres of county-owned land adjacent to the David Lawrence Center on Golden Gate Parkway. In 2007 a sub-district surrounding the center was approved for institutional uses such as care facilities, nursing homes and churches.

Expanding mental health services has been a mission of Collier County since 2010, when the Criminal Justice Mental Health and Substance Abuse Planning Council was established through a grant received by the Florida Department of Children and Family Services. In 2019, the county commissioners approved a five-year strategic plan to improve access to behavioral healthcare. A top priority in the strategic plan was the creation and operation of a centrally located facility system to serve people who are experiencing an acute mental health or substance abuse crisis.

Since 2008, Baker arraignments have increased by approximately 250% in Collier County. The David Lawrence Center operates at nearly full capacity of 45 beds per day. “Expanding and improving our operations, this is something we’ve known for many years that was too soon to be done to provide care and healing for our loved ones and loved ones,” said the Collier County Sheriff. Office Lt. Leslie Weidenhamer, who runs the agency’s mental health unit.

In February 2021, county commissioners unanimously selected the Golden Gate Parkway location, where the David Lawrence Center has operated for 47 years. The center approached the Planning Commission in October with an official proposal on the design of the facility, which would be funded through a county surcharge with a proposed outlay of $25 million.

“Continuity of care, having inpatient acute care support located close to the outpatient support that people need is really important so that they can move quickly to the next step in their treatment,” said Scott Burgess, CEO of the David Lawrence Center. “The goal is to have same-day appointments, so when a patient leaves acutely, they have outpatient support service on the same day. To be clear [the mental health center] Right next to the original campus allows for this.

Burgess said the center’s current location, near the Interstate 75 interchange, makes it a convenient location for all of the county.

“It’s a centralized location, not only centralized in the services that are provided to the people, but we are centralized in the county,” he said. “We are fairly in the middle of the county and we are located very close to I-75, which is a major thoroughfare and helps with access for our customers and their families. So it increases that customer care and engagement and it’s also very helpful from an employee recruitment and retention point of view.

According to Rich Yovanovitch, representing the applicant, this is not the first petition the county has heard regarding the expansion of public health services. Getting approval for these buildings near residential communities has proven difficult.

“Most of the responses to these petitions have come back to, ‘We love the mission, we hate the location,'” Yovanovitch said. “It’s personally upsetting for me to hear this and I have to respond because I feel like we lose a little bit of our humanity when I hear this, and it bothers me. This facility is in this neighborhood It’s been there for 47 years, it’s been a good neighbor, and it’s an important community asset.

During public comment, residents living close to the David Lawrence Center were quick to display opinions suggesting approval of the new behavioral health facility’s mission, not just its location.

Elisabeth Bloch lives across the street from the proposed building site. She reported more than three cases of recently discharged patients from the David Lawrence Center trespassing on her property.

“When I leave my house and take care of my horse in the evening, how do you think I feel knowing that there are people being treated at the David Lawrence Center who by law have to be released, When they are no longer a danger to others, but they can walk straight onto my property because addicts and mentally ill people don’t respect the same boundaries [residents] Do it for property and personal safety,” said Bloch.

After hours of public comment from residents worried about the new facility posing a threat to their homes and families, Commissioner Robert Klusik questioned the center’s care for the mental health of those living near the facility. He was also concerned that residents were not aware that a 5-acre facility was proposed for their neighborhood.

“It may not be your fault, but it’s certainly your project and your issue to deal with,” he said. “I’m really worried and upset that there’s despair among the people here, among the residents, among your neighbors.”

Dale Mullen, president of Wounded Warriors of Collier County, is in favor of the new facility and thinks the county shouldn’t wait any longer to provide more mental health services.

“There just isn’t enough access to beds in this community to serve our population,” Mullen said. “I understand all of the complaints that have been made here today, and I can appreciate, but I know that veterans are dying on our streets in Collier County whether it’s by suicide or whether it’s by substance abuse. Yes, it needs to be done now and don’t postpone it.

Andy Solis, who just finished his term as Collier County Commissioner, has been known for trying for years to bring more mental health services to the county. He assured that this location is the best position for the David Lawrence Center and the county.

“We looked at five sites, we not only looked at the suitability of the location, we also looked at the cost of each location. It was a very detailed analysis,” Solis said. “We had experts analyze and interpret various aspects of the site selection and the facility is on land that has been designated for the purpose.”

Although the main concern of many residents was the David Lawrence Center’s patient discharge protocols, Burgess said not much could be done.

Burgess said, “Individuals have civil liberties and when they are discharged and not deemed under the Baker Act and meet the criteria for the Baker Act, they have the same rights as every other resident in this entire county.” have a legal right to do what they like.” “If they choose to walk home, we should let them walk home.”

The Planning Commission gave David Lawrence Center staff a month to meet with neighbors to find ways to make nearby residents more comfortable with the idea of ​​a new facility.

At the second meeting, it was reported that the Sheriff’s Office has agreed to increase patrols around the area and that the David Lawrence Center will hold monthly meetings to promote regular open dialogue with the surrounding community. In addition, a 10-foot wall was promised along the north and eastern boundaries of the sub-district with a 6-foot-high fence.

However, these amendments, along with further public comments and concerns, did not influence the Planning Commission’s opinion in the way that Burgess and his team had hoped.

Commissioner Randy Sparaza said, “I don’t feel comfortable saying yes to a project where there should be a 10-foot wall between the project and its neighbors.”

Commission chairman Edwin Fryer sees the essence of this disagreement as a lack of compatibility and was impressed by the amount of effort shown by the residents who proved their case.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to decline to make the recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. The county commission ultimately has the final vote on the project, with the item appearing on an upcoming agenda at an undetermined date.

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