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432 days later, inmate gets mental health help

Kudos to Clearwater’s Gulf Coast Community Care for a job well done! 

432 days later, inmate gets mental health help
Published July 21, 2007

TAMPA – Robert C. Burrell, mentally retarded and physically disabled, sat in jail for 432 days with no criminal charges but nowhere more suitable to go.

On Friday, employees at a nonprofit community mental health agency said they had secured him a spot at a skilled nursing home.

Clearwater’s Gulf Coast Community Care accomplished in days what four government agencies couldn’t in 13 months.

"Better late than never, I guess," said Assistant Public Defender John Skye, whose office represented Burrell.

Burrell, 41, was to be admitted to a facility by today, said Kim Tennant, behavioral health administrator at Gulf Coast. She would not name the facility because of patient confidentiality rules.

He also will get mental health services and a case manager, which along with the nursing home will be paid for by Gulf Coast until it can secure Medicaid or Medicare funding.

After getting arrested for breaking into a BMW in South Tampa, Burrell was found incompetent to stand trial and spent two years at a state program for mentally retarded defendants.

His mental acuity didn’t improve, so a judge dropped the charges in June 2006.

Burrell stayed at Falkenburg Road Jail, awaiting transfer to a facility equipped to handle an adult who couldn’t talk, required a wheelchair to get around and needed help using the toilet.

Jail officials and the Hillsborough Public Defender’s Office said they thought the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities was responsible for arranging long-term care.

The disabilities agency said that task fell to the jail and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Debra Behnke ended the deadlock, ordering Burrell to be released from jail and committed involuntarily to a mental health facility for evaluation.

Gulf Coast’s Tennant said she read about Burrell’s plight Wednesday in the St. Petersburg Times. She called one of the agency’s forensic specialists to schedule a meeting with Burrell the next day.

"It was just a shame we had to read about it in the newspaper for a man who needed services so desperately," she said. "The system is definitely breaking down."

Gulf Coast has served Tampa Bay area residents with physical and psychiatric needs for more than four decades and runs a program specifically designed to prevent such people from languishing in jail, Tennant said.

The agencies previously involved with Burrell said his medical and mental condition, plus his lack of family and birth certificate, made him a tough case.

Tennant wasn’t buying it.

"We have cases that make this case look easy," she said.

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