Nearly 1 in 3 Floridians in Behavioral Health Safety Net System Use Telehealth 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 nearly 1 in 3  patients in Florida’s behavioral health safety net system used telehealth 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.

“The need to provide substance abuse and mental health services is critical during these stressful times. The fact that nearly one-third of all patients in our behavioral health safety net system used telehealth services demonstrates the need to make this a permanent option beyond the pandemic,” stated Dr. Christine Cauffield, Chair of the Florida Association of Managing Entities and CEO of LSF Health Systems.

Telephonic or audio-only telehealth services, which previously had been unavailable due to HIPAA concerns, were authorized by government agencies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to expand access to health care. Telephonic 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 for July 2020. Key insights include:

  • In July, 31.6% of Floridians who received behavioral health safety net services used telehealth services.
  • From March to July, there was a 130% increase in the number of Floridians who used telehealth services to receive behavioral health care from the safety net system.
  • Since the authorization in March, tens of thousands of Floridians have used telehealth services.

Florida’s Managing Entities continue to see a steady 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.

“Behavioral health services can help people live to their fullest potential, and by eliminating unnecessary barriers to how people receive critical substance abuse and mental health services, we can help more people lead productive lives,” stated Natalie Kelly, CEO of the Florida Association of Managing Entities.

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.