More than 1 in 5 Floridians in Behavioral Health Safety Net System Use Telephonic Services for Mental Health Care During COVID-19

~ New Data Shows Need for Expanded Mental Health Care Options Post-Pandemic ~

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – New data from the Florida Association of Managing Entities shows that more than 1 in 5 patients in Florida’s behavioral health safety net system used telephonic services amid the COVID-19 crisis. The data, which was collected by the Managing Entities from over 300 mental health providers across the state, shows Floridians’ growing reliance on this important health care option, which is only temporarily authorized by the state at this time.

“This service is breaking down obstacles to accessing critical mental health care at a time when it is needed most. We are able to reach our most vulnerable population in a way that’s safe and affordable for them,” said Dr. Christine Cauffield, president of the Florida Association of Managing Entities and CEO of LSF Health Systems. “With a tremendous amount of Floridians taking advantage of this option, it’s clear that this alternative needs to continue to be available well beyond the pandemic.”

Telephonic or audio-only telehealth services, which previously had been unavailable due to HIPAA concerns, were authorized by state agencies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to expand access to health care. Telephonic or audio-only telehealth services are more accessible to low-income, disabled, and elderly Floridians because, unlike traditional telehealth, they omit the video component and often do not require specific software or internet connection.

The data covers service numbers from all 67 Florida counties between February and April 2020. Key insights include:

  • In April, 21% of Floridians who received behavioral health safety net services used telephonic services.
  • From March to April, there was a 300% increase in the number of Floridians who used telephonic services to receive behavioral health care from the safety net system.
  • In April, telephonic services in the system outnumbered the use of traditional telehealth in 20 counties.
  • Since the authorization in March, tens of thousands of Floridians have used telephonic services.

Data is currently being collected for May, and Managing Entities expect to see a continued increase in the use of telephonic and audio-only telehealth mental health services. However, there is a concern that the use of audio-only mental health services could be eliminated in the coming months if state officials do not act.

The Managing Entities’ safety net system provides mental health and substance abuse services for individuals who are below 200% of the poverty level. Managing Entities were early advocates for authorization of these services in order to prevent interruptions in critical services for this population once social distancing measures were put in place.

“Historically, the number of mental health problems increases in times of crisis, so telephonic and audio-only services have helped families more conveniently access mental health and substance abuse services during this difficult time,” said Natalie Kelly, CEO of the Florida Association of Managing Entities. “But when we’re not faced with a pandemic, there are still technological barriers that keep people from receiving the care they need, and these services can address that problem well into the future.”

As the state begins to reopen, the thousands of Floridians throughout Florida currently receiving their care through this option could potentially lose access unless authorization is extended post-pandemic. Managing Entities recommend flexibility in the continued use of these methods as they provide easy access to care for vulnerable Floridians. No timetable has been put in place to end the use of telephonic or audio-only telehealth, but it is expected to come into question as reopening phases progress.

# # #

About the Florida Association of Managing Entities

The Florida Association of Managing Entities (FAME) is the statewide organization representing Florida’s seven Managing Entities. FAME’s mission is to advance the behavioral health recovery of individuals and their families in the state of Florida.