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Ex-Charter officials plan facility

Tired of closing down other centers, the former executives will open their own mental health agency for youth.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- After the strain of laying off hundreds of people earlier this year, Jim Hill, chief executive officer of Charter Behavioral Health Systems of Tampa Bay, needed a ray of sunshine.

So Hill and his former colleague, Richard Semancik, jumped ship from the sinking Charter. By early July they plan to open Sunshine Youth Services in a former Charter hospital on State Road 54 in Land O'Lakes.

"I got tired of seeing employees get hurt," said Hill, 40, who after years of suits finds himself wearing shorts, a knit shirt and baseball cap. "I was done closing hospitals."

Under contract with the state Department of Juvenile Justice, the Sunshine mental health center will house up to 69 teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 18.

The center will hold "level 6" offenders, mostly non-violent teens with a history of misdemeanors. During stays of 9 to 12 months, the teens will get treatment and schooling on site.

"These kids have depression, attention deficit disorder. Those will be the two key problems," Hill said.

For central Pasco County, Sunshine should spark the economy. Hill and Semancik are hiring 75 full-time employees, including nurses, therapists, kitchen staff and maintenance. Some of the employees they found among Charter workers left unemployed from the layoffs last winter.

"We're excited about bringing the industry back to the area," Semancik said.

The Land O'Lakes hospital has lain vacant since January, when the last patients, several dozen female juvenile offenders, were transferred to a mental health center in Largo.

Charter also closed its 146-bed psychiatric hospital on Riverside Drive in Tampa, throwing 307 people out of work.

The company, which still runs more than 30 hospitals nationwide, blamed insurance companies for their reluctance to pay for in-patient psychiatric care.

Hill and Semancik, two of the highest ranked managers Charter's local operation, quit the company about a month after the Tampa Bay closings.

"We're not going to make as much money as when we were at Charter," Hill said. "But we all won't have to send reports to headquarters in Atlanta."

The Tampa Bay area will supply most of the troubled teens to the 45,000-square-foot Sunshine center, which has a gymnasium, classrooms, an in-ground swimming pool and separate wings for boys and girls.

"It's a beautiful facility," Semancik said. "It's secure. The neighbors don't have to worry about kids running on the streets."

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