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$50,000 gift lets Treasure Coast Community Health resume providing psychiatric services

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of December 27, 2012)

The pills that stabilize their minds were running out, their hopes of finding an affordable doctor to replace the psychiatric services they had lost at Treasure Coast Community Health had been dashed.

Then a barrier island man stepped forward.

On Saturday, Steve Dorrance, executive director of the Treasure Coast Community Health Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the health care program that cares for about 17 percent of the county’s population, was given a $50,000 check to bring back psychiatric services for the hundreds of people who have recently been turned away from his agency for lack of funding.

“God bless you. This is so great,” said Treasure Coast Community Health Center patient Gladys Sartain when told about the donation to the agency.

She then began to cry.

“This is going to be the best Christmas I’ve ever had,”  Sartain said.

Treasure Coast Community Health sent mentally ill and addicted patients in some cases a 30-day supply of medications last month after informing them the health center could no longer take care of their psychiatric needs.  Those that could afford more pills walked away with a maximum 90-day supply.

A total of 437 patients, most of them poor and without insurance, were told the health center –  founded on the principles of helping the poor – could no longer help them. They were given a list of other mental health providers in the county.

Sartain had no luck. Neither did several other patients Vero Beach 32963 contacted Saturday to inform them that psychiatric services would be coming back, at least for a while.

“This is wonderful news,” said Luanna Smolz.

Smolz and her boyfriend Paul Fear had both said their good-byes to Treasure Coast in November. Neither had found replacement care.

In January, they would be out of pills.

Fear, said Smolz, had grown increasingly depressed and planned to give up trying to find a replacement psychiatrist.

“He didn’t want to have to tell his story again,” Smolz said.

Waiting lists, higher fees and other overwhelmed facilities kept many from getting the care they need to keep their minds stabilized.

Treasure Coast Community Health spent $710,000 last year caring for mentally ill and opiate-addicted patients.

During an August site visit, federal regulators informed health center officials that they were in jeopardy of losing some $2 million in federal grants if they continued to use money  for psychiatric services that was earmarked for primary medical and dental care.

The barrier island man read Vero Beach 32963’s series of stories about the mounting mental health crisis in the county and made a phone call to a reporter. He then made a few more calls.

The man – who asked to not be identified – also went with Dorrance to the Oslo Road clinic and spoke with a veteran in the mental health field about the pressing issues of the mentally ill who are poor.

“Here’s a Christmas present for you,” the man told Vero Beach 32963 when he called to explain his next call would be to Dorrance to set up a time to hand him the check.

On Saturday, he handed a check for $50,000 to Dorrance.

“I’m holding it right now,” an elated Dorrance said.

The money comes from the New York-based Syde Hurus Foundation, which the island man has managed for over a decade.

Hurus, the daughter of a Brooklyn blacksmith, was born in the early 1900s, had been a New York model and owned a blouse company before selling it at the time for what was considered a substantial amount of money, about $13 million.

That $50,000 gift from the foundation will allow the Treasure Coast Community Health Care agency to bring back a psychiatrist for the next several months.  Dorrance has asked other local foundations to consider matching the $50,000 grant so that services will be covered throughout all of 2013. 

Hopefully, not long into the new year, Treasure Coast will learn if the federal government – which provides about 20 percent of the agency’s $10 million-a-year operating budget – will reverse its stance and allow Treasure Coast to use its funds to care for the mentally ill.

Dorrance said Treasure Coast Chief Executive Officer Vicki Soule told him federal regulators recently saw Vero Beach 32963’s series of stories from a news clipping service and was reconsidering its position.

“Without 32963 none of this would have happened,” Dorrance said. “We are so grateful for its role in our community.”