Members of the Coalition recognize that older adults experience the same mental health and substance abuse problems as younger adults. Despite concerns about their mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as the fact that older adults have the highest suicide rate of all age groups, there are few behavioral health programs available that are specifically designed to serve this age group. Even when programs are available in the community older people are less likely to take advantage of the provided services. In addition, older people who reside in assisted living centers and nursing homes often do not receive adequate or appropriate mental health and substance abuse services.
Problems facing behavioral health systems and aging services systems range from no public funding for community services for older people, poorly trained front-line care providers, an inadequate number of trained and skilled clinical gerontological professionals, unrecognized special needs of older people, to a lack of monitoring of existing facilities. Since the 1990's, several Florida taskforce reports demonstrated the lack or absence of leadership, advocacy and state policy regarding the mental health needs and care of older Floridians.
In response to these reports and with a growing awareness of these problems, the Florida Coalition was established in 1998 with 22 members at its inaugural meeting and installing as co-chairs, Drs. Larry W. Dupree and Marion Becker of the Florida Mental Health Institute, University of South Florida. Within the first year, approximately 200 people asked to become members. Members included interested service providers, policy makers, government and private agencies, researchers, advocates and consumers who strive to improve the availability, effectiveness and quality of mental health services for Florida's older citizens.
Based on legislative drafts by the Coalition, the 2000 Florida legislature passed a law requiring the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to identify older persons with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders as specific target populations for state funding. In addition the Florida Department of Elder Affairs policies were modified to encourage collaboration with (DCF) in screening older adults.
Over the years, the Coalition hosted annual conferences in Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Ft. Lauderdale to promote best practices throughout the state and bring nationally recognized experts in the field to Florida to help further the agenda to improve services for older adults. FCOMHA Co-chairs Stephen Ferrante and Dr. Christine Cauffield helped in transitioning FCOMHA's annual conferences to a track within the annual, statewide Florida Conference on Aging.
Current Status of the Coalition
Several regional coalitions have emerged to take on these efforts at the local level. The statewide Coalition is now in transition, providing web-based and information support to the regional coalitions and helping with presentations at the annual Florida Conference on Aging. Regional coalition members and others remain connected through conference calls, website information, and emails.
For information on active Regional Coalitions please click on the following links:
- Southwest Florida Coalition for Optimal Behavioral Health and Aging (SWFCOBHA)
- Solutions Aimed at Growth and Empowerment for Seniors (SAGES)
- South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging
- Suncoast Regional Coalition