A Letter to Advocates

As we head into our winter “season” we wanted to take the opportunity to update you on the incredible successes that we have had improving the mental health care for our children across Southwest Florida, none of which would have been possible without your support. As many of you know, the pandemic has dramatically increased the need for behavioral health services, particularly given the sudden disruption that school closings (and job losses) have meant for our children and their families.

Care Navigators

Working in conjunction with Lee and Collier School Districts, we’ve hired “care navigators”, two in Lee and two in Collier, who build working relationships, solve problems, and support the most acute patients and their families while they learn to self-navigate the system of care. Navigators reduce barriers that keep patients from getting timely treatment and assist them in accessing sources of emotional, financial, administrative, or cultural support. We are now in the process of hiring an additional navigator to work in the clinical setting at the new Healthcare Network facility in Naples. All of these new positions are the outcome of your philanthropy. Navigators have already seen family and patient improvements including school attendance, grades, behavior, and reduction in disruptive incidents.

Mental Health Mondays

Given the pandemic, we launched a new online series titled Mental Health Mondays. These forums have included:

  • discussions on coping with grief and chronic illnesses
  • navigating our mental health landscape
  • minority healthcare
  • keeping kids safe when home alone
  • addiction
  • dealing with trauma during a pandemic
  • music therapy
  • healthy eating and exercise
  • parenting skills for exceptional children

These Facebook Live events have engaged over 21,000 viewers, but more importantly have continued to support the emotional and behavioral health needs of our community when more face to face activities have been limited.

Increased Access to Care

Our behavioral health clinic continues to recruit and attract new providers, even as we become increasingly stressed for space. In addition to adding new clinicians, we’ve expanded our night and weekend hours for more patients, and have added additional telehealth services so that the providers can meet patients virtually. We continue to evaluate new space, though doing so in this environment has been challenging. We want to expand our access points, and are currently looking to add facilities in South Lee (Estero/Bonita Springs), Lehigh Acres, and Cape Coral. These new facilities cost approximately $1.0-1.5 million to stand up (lease, furniture, technology, administrative support, etc.).

Community Collaborations

  • Knowing that the solution to pediatric behavioral health is a community-wide issue and will need broad community buy-in, we continue to build collaborative partnerships across the region. Dr. Simeone has created a regional partnership to meet people where they are (outside stores, food distribution lines, etc.) to help assess and assist with mental health needs. This collaborative, named Healthy Minds and integrated with Healthy Lee, includes over 15 organizations. They have developed a resiliency toolkit to share with people that assesses their mental health, and thereafter provides a roadmap for these agencies to determine the support they need. Beyond behavioral health, these services include access to food and nutrition, housing, and job search assistance.
  • For the first time, we have also created a multi-agency release and consent form, which provides the ability for a patient to consent to their information being shared across agencies. This not only streamlines services for the patient, but enables agencies to share information that otherwise was siloed. This helps agencies collaborate to develop the best care plan for the patients, especially those who need support from multiple directions.
  • Lee Health and Kids’ Minds Matter recently hosted the 2nd Annual Regional Mental Health Fair, bringing agencies together to share information and resources. These interactions have led to many collaborations across agencies, eliminated duplication, and identified new resources to share.
  • Kids’ Minds Matter continues to be actively engaged with other community organizations as well. Recognizing that suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers, KMM partnered with the Florida Reparatory Theater to sponsor Every Brilliant Thing, a fantastic one-person show that features a teenager dealing with his mother’s suicidality. In partnership with the Lee County School District, we were on track to bring this play to up to 1200 students, but COVID limited the run and only 350 students were able to view it. However, this opened up a great partnership with the Florida Rep and we continue to evaluate additional shows that bring visibility to mental illness and the stigma attached.
  • We also hosted our second version of Normal is Overrated, again run by our teenagers from across the region. These children and young adults continue to amaze with their creativity and dedication to helping others overcome the stigma of being different. Although moved online, the forum was a wonderful testament to the many people who struggle every day to fit in, and these youth bring hope to so many. The leaders of Normal is Overrated also pulled together a food donation event at Costco in Estero where over 1600 pounds of food was donated to the Midwest Food Bank. With so many of our children facing food insecurity during this economic malaise, this event was critical in helping many families know that others are supporting them.
  • Dr. Simeone and his colleagues have also launched a series of advocacy activities to raise the visibility of mental health issues in Southwest Florida and beyond. We now have a legislative advocacy council looking to lobby for additional state and federal investment in behavioral health services, as well as to improve reimbursement rates for those services which they do cover. As the lowest funded region in the lowest funded state, increased investment is essential. In addition, Dr. Simeone created the Lee County Ad Hoc Steering Council on behavioral health, again to coordinate the efforts from across the region.
  • All of this is in addition to the continuing programs provided by the Golisano Child Life team. These wonderful services include parenting classes to help parents understand and support kids better. Also, outreach to FSW to train faculty, students and staff on identifying those with mental health issues. They have put together a program for all staff at Lee Health as well.

We have invested significantly in marketing our services across the region. Engagement is up across the board, including visitors to the KMM website, followers on Instagram and Facebook, and through our earned media. This has led to over 1,600 gifts to KMM this past year.

Unfortunately, this pandemic has created an uptick in anxiety, depression, psychoses, suicidality, poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, school misbehavior, and stigma. Therefore, our work not only continues but needs to escalate.

Our future plans include continuing to expand our provider network across the region, both at Lee Health and beyond. We are investing in scholarships at FGCU to train more providers. We are expanding our behavioral health services in Estero, Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral. We plan to build an autism testing center in partnership with our colleagues at Golisano Children’s Hospital Upstate (NY), to help parents get children diagnosed and assisted as early as possible. We are developing a full spectrum pediatric behavioral health service line with the addition of some sub-specialty clinicians. The strategic plan includes building a partial inpatient therapy service, and the development of an adolescent intensive outpatient facility. We are expanding care management through the Golisano clinic, and will continue to support community-wide activities such as Healthy Minds, Normal is Overrated, theater partnerships, and our legislative advocacy efforts.

Finally, there continues to be many ways that you can remain engaged and involved:

You are making a difference across the region. As a convener of the region, Kids’ Minds Matter is driving change. We are so grateful for your ongoing support as we tackle one of the largest issues facing our region today. None of these activities would be possible without your investment and trust in Lee Health and the Kids’ Minds Matter leadership. On behalf of all of us, thank you!


Dr. Paul Simeone
Vice President and Medical Director
Lee Health

Christopher J. Simoneau
Chief Foundation and Development Officer
Lee Health Foundation