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Everything you need to know about the zika virus in South Florida.

PolitiFact FL On State Mental Health Funding; Miami The 1st Zika-Free Zone

A Jan. 6 mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport left five people dead and stranded thousands of passengers
Courtesy Miami Herald/PolitiFact Florida
A Jan. 6 mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport left five people dead and stranded thousands of passengers

Is Florida really at the bottom of the pack of states when it comes to paying for mental health care? And was Miami-Dade the first place to declare itself free of the Zika virus? WUSF's gets to the bottom of those claims with Allison Graves of PolitiFact Florida.

The horrific mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in early January has led to calls for increased mental health screenings for people considered at risk. The shooter had told the FBI just a week before that he heard voices in his head, but they ended up giving his gun back.

So state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, (D-Orlando) said in a press conference that the way to reduce gun violence is not through gun control but mental health care funding. But, he says, there's a catch:

"We see once again Florida is ranked 50th in the nation for mental health care funding — 50th," he said. "There is no one that is doing worse than we are when it comes to making sure we that we are providing comprehensive mental health care."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on that:

Smith pointed to news articles about Florida’s low ranking on mental health funding and data from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute.

Mental health funding experts said they consider the institute’s data as the best source.

The institute collects annual data on expenditures by state mental health agencies from the states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The total amount of expenditures is divided by the state population to compare the amount per capita.

The most recent data, for fiscal year 2014, showed Florida ranked 51st out of 52 jurisdictions for total state mental health spending — behind 49 states and Washington, D.C. — at $36.05 per capita. The Sunshine State was only ahead of one jurisdiction: Puerto Rico, at $20.22.

Florida has consistently been near the bottom of the rankings for years, said Ted Lutterman, senior director of the institute. In general, states in the northeast and northwest spend more, while southern states spend much less, he said.

One key caveat about this data: It is based on money spent through Florida’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Office, managed by the Department of Children and Families, and it doesn’t include services paid from other sources, including Medicaid or local funds, on mental health programs.

"Those additional funding sources aren’t reported to DCF, but they’re still used within the local systems of care to treat individuals," said Jessica Sims, DCF spokeswoman.

The national research institute asks the state mental health authority in each state to provide information on all the funds used for its public mental health provider system, including state psychiatric hospitals and community providers. If another state agency uses Medicaid funds to pay for services directly and doesn’t work with the state mental health authority, then the state mental health authority will not have that data, Lutterman said.

However, it is difficult to compare Florida with other states because it administers its Medicaid program differently than most states.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Moving on to South Florida, there was a big Zika scare there not too long ago. That's the disease spread by mosquitoes that can cause babies to be born with abnormally small heads.

"We were the first community in the world - let me repeat that - the first community and I believe the only community in the world to break the cycle of local transmission of the Zika virus," Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said during his State of the County speech Jan. 18.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on that claim

In July, the first local Zika cases were reported in Miami-Dade County. Over the next few months, the state declared four local Zika transmission zones.

The state lifted the first zone, in Wynwood -- a trendy area near downtown Miami -- Sept. 19. That was the first community in the world to break local transmission, CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes said.

The state lifted the last of the four zones, in part of South Beach, on Dec. 9. But officials didn’t declare Zika entirely kicked to the curb forever; Miami-Dade remained a "cautionary area" according to the CDC. Officials warned that isolated cases could continue to appear --  the most recent one was Dec. 15.

Let’s look at how Miami-Dade compared with some other areas in curbing Zika.

In addition to Miami-Dade, only one other area in the United States had local Zika cases: Brownsville, Texas. Miami-Dade reported 257 cases of local transmission, while Brownsville reported six. The Texas Department of Health never declared a local transmission zone in Brownsville, but the CDC called it a "cautionary area."

It’s difficult to compare Miami-Dade to other places where the Zika virus has been far more widespread. Brazil has had more than 128,000 cases and continues to battle Zika. Local transmission continues in Puerto Rico, which had more than 100 new cases this month and more than 37,000 since 2015. In Singapore, the government designated "Zika clusters" and announcedthat it had no more Dec. 15 after its last new case was reported Dec. 10.

However, the "only place it really stopped is in Florida," said Daniel Epstein, a spokesman for the Pan American Health Organization.

There were other areas in the world where Zika dropped off before it hit Miami-Dade. For example, the outbreak in French Polynesia affected an estimated 28,000 people and lasted until 2014, said Monika Gehner, a WHO spokeswoman.

There are some caveats about Gimenez’s claim, including that only one other county in the United States had local cases, and a far smaller number. Some other places took a far greater hit from Zika than Florida did.

Experts caution that Zika cases could return to South Florida, a point Gimenez also acknowledged in his speech.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

UPDATE:This is an update dated Jan. 27 from the Florida Department of Health:

There are three locally acquired cases being reported today. Two are cases that had samples collected in October as part of our ongoing investigation and the department just received confirmatory testing back from CDC. The third case reported no symptoms but blood samples collected Dec. 21 showed evidence of a current infection. Two are Miami-Dade County residents and the third is an out of state resident. Florida still does not have any identified areas with ongoing, active Zika transmission.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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