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Pendergrass visits, tours Lehigh
June 13, 2018

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Lee Board of Commissioners Chair Cecil Pendergrass was joined by various local agencies for an informal luncheon at Azucar Restaurant in the Lehigh Town Center on June 4. Lehigh Acres Municipal District Commissioner Michael Welch, who also serves as their Emergency Operations Director, organized the impromptu visit along with a tour around Lehigh Acres.

"I host this luncheon a couple times a year. Our last one was right before Hurricane Irma. During our last visit we spoke extensively on the opioid problem here in Lehigh. Mr. Pendergrass got involved and because of his efforts, SalusCare is finally coming out here and will begin to offer their services to the community. This would not have happened without him," explained Welch.

Carole Green, partner at Capital Strategies, was on hand to discuss the local SalusCare operations, which will address the opioid crisis and mental health needs in Lehigh Acres.

Welch also commented on the efforts of Commissioner Pendergrass, Commissioner Brian Hamman and other county commissioners post Hurricane Irma.

"They made sure that we got anything we needed following hurricane. It was a great team that got to work together," said Welch.

Pendergrass accredited the open lines of communications between LA-MSID and the county as an important part of the equation.

"We were aware of a lot of things on the county side, but it was really important to have that communication with those working on the local side. This year we are going to be better prepared than last year due to the improved lines of communication," said Pendergrass.

Other agency officials and community leaders joining Pendergrass during the luncheon were Gary C. Bell, chief executive officer at Lehigh Regional Medical Center; Fire Chief Robert DiLallo; Melissa Berry, director at Lehigh Acres Senior Center; Carolyn Peplow, executive director at Lehigh Community Services; David Lindsay, district manager at Lehigh Acres Municipal District; Conchita Borosch, a long time Lehigh business leader and Inke Schirrmacher, president of Lehigh Acres Architectural Zoning and Review Board.

Discussions during the luncheon included the emergency operations planning for the upcoming hurricane season.

According to David Kirk Sr., who was recently announced as the new volunteer of Emergency Operations at LA-MSID, this planning will serve as blueprint for the future.

"We are currently working on a disaster plan for this year's season and future ones. Volunteer recruitment is going to be a big part of what I do. We need to train volunteers to be ready in case of a disaster. It's something I already do in my current position as the manager and trainer for Red Cross," said Kirk.

Kirk also served as a FEMA reservist for nearly three years prior to his position at Red Cross.

Pendergrass was also accompanied by Spencer Roach, who recently announced his candidacy for Matt Caldwell's Lee County House District 79 seat. The Republican candidate plans to spend a lot of time touring Lehigh Acres and speaking with local agencies and residents in the coming months.

Following the luncheon, Lehigh Regional Medical Center's CEO Gary Bell invited Pendergrass, Welch and Roach for a tour of the new mental health unit currently under construction at Lehigh Regional Medical Center.

The 27-bed inpatient behavioral health unit was due to open in December 2018, but was delayed due to renovation delays.

The unit is designed to treat adults ages 55 and older who are experiencing a wide range of emotional, social and behavioral issues that affect the healthy function of their daily lives.

According to Bell, the healthcare system currently under-serves patients who suffer from mental health issues.

"Many times we treat only the medical side of the problem, but don't address the mental health side. There's a real need for this type of service here in Lehigh," said Bell.

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