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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 27, 201712:00 PM EST

Health care facilities partnering to train 10,000 people to recognize mental illness

by: Maggie FitzRoy Contributing Writer

Mental health issues were identified as a top area of concern when Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic, St. Vincent’s HealthCare and UF Health Jacksonville conducted a community needs assessment in 2016.

“So we decided as a group we would do something about it,” Brooks Rehabilitation CEO Douglas Baer said Thursday.

The five area health systems have joined forces to provide free adult mental health first aid training over the next three years, with the goal of training 10,000 people — first responders and residents — to recognize the signs of mental illness.

The Mental Health First Aid initiative will consist of an eight-hour course on how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and behavioral health issues.

It is offered nationwide by Mental Health First Aid USA, which is modeled after a similar course in Australia. The local health systems will pay for the training fees.

Baer said the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office was the first organization to volunteer to join the project, committing more than 3,000 employees to attend the training, including police officers, corrections officers and those in civilian positions.

He said Mayor Lenny Curry’s office and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have committed to training at least 10 percent of their staffs.

To date, 26 people have received instructor training, he said, and a second class of 32 people is signed up to be trained next week to become instructors.

“Each of these trainees has committed to train 100 citizens annually over the next three years,” Baer said.

The 26 trained instructors have already begun to teach the course.

Michelle Cook, director of patrol and enforcement for the Sheriff’s Office, said training began for some employees this month.

Baer said several classes have been held at Brooks as well.

“We value the training,” Cook said.

“Many times on the street, when someone calls the police, what we are encountering is a mental health crisis,” Cook later said. “The symptom is the crime. Taking someone to jail for a minor crime when what is really happening is a mental health crisis is a disservice to that person and the community.”

For example, when someone bashes in the window of a car, it might be because they are upset because someone in their family died, she said.

“That may be a mental health crisis. And they need help. When an officer attends the class and encounters someone who is upset because of a lost relative, they now have resources and training to better deal with it,” she said.

Cook said the training also will help raise awareness of mental health issues in the community.

The training, which is open to anyone, will provide an action plan to teach people how to safely and appropriately intervene with someone who is showing signs of mental illness, Baer said.

Curry said in a statement the “innovative approach to addressing mental health issues in our community demonstrates determined commitment to improving health outcomes in Jacksonville.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. has a mental illness issue in a given year.

About one in 25 adults will experience a serious mental illness that interferes with major life activities.

Anyone interested in taking the course may enroll at

“Sometimes mental health issues are a cause of a patient’s health issues” at Brooks, Baer said.

For example, someone with a substance abuse problem may get into a car accident because they are impaired, which leaves them with a brain injury or spinal cord injury.

He said the initiative “is not the complete solution, but it’s a start to try to have an impact. I’m encouraged, with all of us working together, that we can begin to make a difference.”

Others at the news conference were Hugh Greene, Baptist Health CEO and president; Gianrico Farrugia, CEO and vice president of Mayo Clinic Jacksonville; Tom VanOsdol, interim CEO of St. Vincent’s HealthCare; Nipa Shah, UF Health Jacksonville; and Charles Moreland, director of community affairs for Curry’s administration.

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