Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, center, spoke about the mentally ill at the kick-off luncheon for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Broward’s fundraising walk Sept. 5.

Changing the way how mentally ill people are treated in Broward County was the topic of discussion at the kickoff luncheon for National Alliance on Mental Illness Broward, held on Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Embassy Suites Hotel, located on 17th Street, in Fort Lauderdale.

The keynote speakers at the event included Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony and Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Broward County will be holding its annual Walk for Mental Illness on Saturday, Nov. 8 at Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek. The first walk last year attracted hundreds and was hugely instrumental in the charity being able to expand the services and support, organizers said. Team captains and other attendees spoke and networked at the luncheon, which also included a fashion show of T-shirts and other accessories wore by people who participated in the walk last year and also will participate in this year’s. Local judges also were in attendance at the event. 

Sheriff Tony spoke about the impact of the organization and its members in the community, including schools, businesses and other agencies, including the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Tony spoke about the relationship his agency has with all facets of the community and how that relationship needed to improve. He said that he, and his officers, and personnel, had to do a better job reaching out to people who had mental health issues. He told the people in the room that the amount of work they did was unprecedented, and many times they were not really recognized for the hard work they did. 

“We are going to have to do a better job,” said Tony. “I have to do a better job to understand the behavioral issues that impact the calls for service we actually go out to. Being able to stand here today and speak on behalf of the organization, this is a tremendous opportunity. This particular group has put forward a lot of effort to provide us with the tools, trainings and awareness. It is a tremendous task we have to do here as it relates to mental health.”

The Sheriff’s Office, he said, was one of the largest public safety organizations in Florida, so it was important for that agency to have the right training to deal with people who had mental health and other issues. Tony also spoke about mental health issues and how those issues impacted the large homeless people who lived on the streets in Broward County. He spoke of how many homeless people needed the dignity of work and housing, and how much it hurt them to ask people for help. 

“I never met a homeless person who didn’t look you in the eye with some form of shame that they had to request money from you,” said Tony. “We need to do something to mitigate this. It’s on everyone. It takes a whole Village to raise a community. It’s important for me and an honor for me to be here.”

Finkelstein told the people in the room how important they were to the community, and the importance of the work they did. Finkelstein spoke of the history of mental illness, and how it wasn’t that long ago that mentally ill people were locked away in institutions rather than being given the lifesaving medications they often received today. People in institutions were also beaten and tortured and did not get the type of treatment they got today. Finkelstein also spoke about the young man who hung himself in a jail cell recently, about the mentally ill woman who gave birth in a jail cell by herself and other instances where mentally ill people in the jail were overlooked. The care in most jails, he said, was still substandard and needed to be addressed. 

“You have people listening to you who are running for office,” said Finkelstein. “Now is the time for you to reach out to them. You have their ear. We have to change the mental health and care in jails. It is done and given to the lowest bidder. Would you want them to receive this treatment? It is substandard. It has been for five decades. We have to end this cycle now.”

Finkelstein also noted that it was not fair to police officers on the street that they had to figure out whether the person running at them was schizophrenic or was deranged from the wrong kind of drugs. He also said that the Broward County Jail was a place where well people got sick and ill people often died, and another facility needed to be built to address mental health care in the community. 

“We would never treat someone with cancer the way we treat someone with mental illness,” said Finkelstein. “I thank God you are here. You are the fingers of God. You are the fluttering wings of his angels. Their very lives depend on you.”

The goal of the walk is $150,000. So far, $48,715 has been raised.

It is free to register to walk. For more information, contact, Edna Einhorn, walk manager at 954-258-3990 or email edna@namibroward.org.

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