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Free Mental Health Care Makes Financial Sense

Free Mental Health Care Makes Financial Sense

Often people fret about who will pay for “free” healthcare. One solution more communities should look at is a private-public partnership between the local hospital and the government.

In Orange County, Florida, a mental health clinic that opened in 2010 has served over 1,100 patients. And they did it without charging a dime to the poor, uninsured patients they serve.

How does this make any fiscal sense? You may be surprised by the answer.

As Americans are beginning to wake up to the mental health treatment crisis facing their country, they’re looking for new ways to deal with the issue. Currently, the United States routes many poor people who have little access to mental health services into the prison system, most often for petty or non-violent drug crimes.

Prison “care,” however, is extremely expensive for these people. The cost for housing and feeding an average inmate in the U.S. is $31,000/year.

For those people with mental health issues that don’t end up in prison, they often turn to the only healthcare they have available to them — the local hospital’s emergency services. Every night, across the nation, E.R.s become the go-to spot for people in mental health crisis.

And if you thought prison care was expensive, the bill for treatment at an E.R. can be thousands of dollars per visit. Someone who is poor and with a chronic mental health condition may turn to the E.R. for their treatment because they have nowhere else to turn to.

Free Clinics are More Economical

Since civilized societies such as ours must provide care to everyone, the only question isn’t whether we provide such care or not, but where. Because we haven’t planned very well for this care, we’ve relegated it to prisons and E.R.s. This is an expensive and short-sighted mistake.

Free mental health clinics similar to the community mental health centers envisioned by President Kennedy in the 1960s are one simple alternative to the problem. And in Orlando, Florida, they’re showing it’s an alternative that works.

In a private-public partnership, the local government of Orange County, Florida works with the local hospital, Florida Hospital, to offer care to those who otherwise would be getting it from the E.R. or prison system.1 The Outlook Clinic just celebrated its fifth anniversary.

While it has cost the hospital over $1 million to offer this care, it’s also saved them an estimated $1.6 million by diverting these folks from expensive E.R. treatment to far less expensive outpatient clinic treatment. The local government has chipped in the building and utilities for the clinic.

The facility is open only to Orange County residents who have no private, government or military insurance and who suffer from anxiety or depression — the most common mental-health problems. The clinic’s patients — currently about 350 of them — also have at least one chronic medical problem. Diabetes and heart disease are common.

“We know that patients with chronic physical health issues often have underlying mental health issues, too,” said Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson, Florida Hospital’s vice president for community impact. “And if you can’t manage the mental health, you can’t manage the chronic diseases either.”

Having served over 1,100 uninsured people during the time it’s been open, I think this is a great example of a private-public partnership that more communities should look into doing.

People in the U.S. need to stop pretending we don’t provide care to the uninsured (or that we shouldn’t have to). We do regardless of whether we have universal health insurance or not. But when we don’t plan for this care, we end up paying a lot more for it. Which just makes little sense to anyone who pays taxes.


Read the full story: Free mental health clinic in Orlando celebrates success in saving lives, money

Free Mental Health Care Makes Financial Sense


  1. Prisoners don’t actually receive anything approximating appropriate mental health care in prison, so that’s sort of a misnomer to suggest that they do. []

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Free Mental Health Care Makes Financial Sense. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 6 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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