Alignment Bay County Aligns Mental

Health Resources Post-Hurricane

As the impact of Hurricane Michael is still being felt in Panama City, Florida, Alignment Bay County (ABC) is rallying its board members and Alignment Team members around a need that has risen to the top.  ABC has formed a new group to lead this work – the ABC Mental Health Committee – and is shifting the focus of its existing Alignment Teams toward a system-wide effort to combat a rise in mental health needs.

When Hurricane Michael hit the community of Panama City in October of 2018, dozens of people were killed and homes, schools and businesses across the community were damaged or destroyed.  Many community members have lost both their jobs and their homes, schools have consolidated, and families have relocated or, in many cases, moved in with other family members.  The stress of rapid change and uncertainty is taking a toll on the mental health of both adults and youth.  Bay District Schools Superintendent and ABC Governing Board member, Bill Husfelt, shared with other board members in January that the mental health of students and families had become their highest focus.  He said, “Prior to the storm, our number one focus was on student safety. Now we must balance that priority with the ever-changing mental health needs of our students and our employees.  There’s not a family in Bay County who wasn’t impacted in some way by Hurricane Michael and now we face the somewhat daunting task of helping our students recover from that trauma. We have written grants, requested additional funding from the state and continue to gather all of the resources and experts in this field that we can to help our students and our employees on their individual journeys of recovery.”

Additionally, ABC board members and team members have shared that the community is seeing both a rise in the number of requests to invoke the Baker Act, a Florida law enabling families to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention, and increased incidences of sexual assault.

Alignment Bay County, in forming the ABC Mental Health Committee, has determined that focusing on mental health awareness and promoting mental health services across the Panama City area is a top priority over the next 12 months.  This diverse group includes mental health professionals, educators, school administrators, faith-based representatives, communications experts, providers of services to our homeless population, business men and women, marketing experts, FSU – Panama City and more. “What is important for our residents to know is that it is normal to feel some sense of loss, anxiety and even depression as an after effect of Hurricane Michael” states Lisa Walters, Chair of the Alignment Bay County Governing Board. ABC is working to educate all ages of their community that these feelings are normal and are shared by many of their neighbors. They are developing a communication plan that will include suggested tips to improve mental health and will provide information regarding mental health services that are available to those who may need them. In further aligning its existing teams and Alignment structure to meet these high priority needs, ABC is fulfilling its stated mission – to align community organizations and resources so that their coordinated support of Bay County’s youth has a positive impact on public school success, children’s health, and the success of our community as a whole.

Submitted by Barbara Robinson, Executive Director, Alignment Bay County