Alachua County Commissioners Discuss Grants For Community Services

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The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Gainesville and the Alachua County Health Care Advisory Board are requesting grant money from the county to fund physical and mental health services.

During an Alachua County Commission budget meeting Thursday, the commission did not reach a decision on these requests or express that they will be included in the tentative budget for fiscal year 2021. However, the commissioners discussed giving the proposals to county staff to review and make recommendations.

Brendan Shortley, chair of the county’s health care advisory board, asked the commission to allot 10% of the county’s general fund this year and increase by 10% each year for Community Health Offering Innovative Care and Educations Services (CHOICES). It is a program that assists uninsured people who live in the county by providing money to health care providers, such as clinics.

“This is the kind of situation where, if you let this go unfunded, I think the impact would explode in terms of the impact on the community health wise,” he said.

The CHOICES trust fund is being used at a rate of $800,000 per year. According to a letter submitted to the commissioners by the health care advisory board, low-income people in Alachua County will not be able to receive needed health care services if this money is spent entirely.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly suggested that the board figure out how many people the program helps to get a better understanding of where the money is going.

“I’m assuming these clinics,” he said, “they do serve thousands of people, but I think the question is, ‘How many additional people are they able to serve at full price with the CHOICES money?”

NAMI Gainesville also called on the commission to increase its grant money to fund health services. Arthur Stockwell, executive director of the organization, requested that the commissioners add more than $64,000 to its yearly grant, bringing it from $10,000 to $74,440, to support three new mental health initiatives for Alachua County Jail inmates.

“This is kind of a program to get into the jail and offer a support group. The group would be meeting once a week. One side for the men’s side. One side for the women’s side,” he said, “And like we do at Vista, you know, attach a peer mentor to the folks that have more serious mental illnesses.”

Byerly shared his concerns about the proposal.

“Again, I’m really not looking to add new initiatives this year,” he said. “I think we need to give it some time, see where we’re going to be six months from now because we could be in a very different place and thinking we really couldn’t afford to start doing this.”

While County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said she agreed with Byerly on holding off on projects, she would like to continue the conversation about these initiatives.

“For the folks, again, who are concerned about policing, you know, across the country, this is another way that we can say this is what we’re doing in Alachua County to make sure that our people are protected inside and outside the bars.”

The next budget meeting will take place Aug. 13.

About Hannah Bobek

Hannah Bobek is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at hannah.bobek@ufl.edu.

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