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Business, hospitals, schools launch mental health coalition in Tampa Bay

Margie Manning



Tommy Inzina, president and CEO, BayCare Health System

Rising mental health and substance abuse issues take a big toll on a business’ bottom line, but investing in treatment can provide a significant return.

That’s why a newly formed coalition focused on mental wellness wants buy-in and support from Tampa-St. Pete companies.

The new group, the West Central Florida Mental Wellness Coalition Inc., was unveiled Thursday morning by Tommy Inzina, CEO of BayCare Health System.

BayCare, the largest healthcare provider in the area, has taken the lead in forming and funding the organization, but it will be an independent entity, with a board made up of a wide range of leaders from competing hospitals and other healthcare companies, schools, law enforcement and public officials.

The coalition’s mission is to mobilize the community toward strengthening mental health outcomes in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Polk counties, where one in six people have been diagnosed with depression and one in 12 people have a substance abuse disorder.

“We’re not naïve. We’re not going to put this group together and think that in three years we’ll solve all the problems. But one of the things we have to do is convince ourselves that we can make a difference. And we as a group — a wide cross-section of people — believe that we could, but only if you agree with us,” Inzina told a group of about 250 leaders from across a range of businesses at the initiative launch at the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center in Tampa.

Return on investment

The new coalition is the  culmination of an effort that began 15 months ago, when the BayCare board challenged Inzina to find a way for BayCare to use its leadership position to make a difference in rising mental health and substance abuse issues.

BayCare conducted interviews with 35 community leaders and mental health experts, and convened two all-day collaboration meeting with 29 leaders across diverse industries and geographies.

See the gallery below for comments from some of the leaders involved in the early meetings.

The group found plenty of data showing how much mental health issues cost businesses and society at large.

Full-time workers diagnosed with depression miss twice as many work days due to poor health than their co-workers. The average cost of one suicide in the United States is $1.3 million, with 97 percent of that cost due to lost productivity.

But investing in treating for depression and anxiety leads to a $4 return on every $1 invested. Eighty percent of employees reported improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction when treated for mental illness.

That’s why the business community needs to be involved, Inzina said.

“There’s a lot that big employers can do in the workplace. At large organizations, most of us have employee assistance programs, where our employees can call and get help if they have issues. I was surprised to learn, because I’ve always worked at big organizations, that a lot of smaller employers not only don’t have that, they don’t know about it and that they could buy that service from others,” he said.


The new coalition has three initial goals: guiding and connecting patients to available resources, providing urgent care and clinical support for patients in crisis, and a public awareness campaign to  educate about mental health and substance abuse, with a focus on reducing the stigma surrounding the issues.

It will have small staff, with just an executive director, manager and assistant, as well as a 15-member governing board and several working teams focused on the goals. The proposed operating budget is about $1.5 million to $2 million annually, with $7.5 million to $10 million needed to cover operating costs for the first five years.

Over half of that total has been raised so far. Early funders are:

  • AdventHealth, $1 million
  • Florida Blue, $500,000
  • HCA $500,000
  • Tampa General Hospital, $500,000
  • Clearwater Police, $10,000
  • McKinsey & Co., $10,000
  • Local businesses, $3,000

BayCare is matching all the commitments dollar for dollar.

Several of those in attendance asked Inzina if ongoing work by existing behavioral health organizations would be taken into account. He assured them it would.

“Our purpose is not to duplicate anything, but to see how we can be a resource,” he said. “There are tons of really good organizations working as hard as they can on this issue, but it’s bigger than any one of us alone and our thought was if we help each other, there will be a way do that.”

West Central Florida Mental Wellness Coalition

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Mental health is not a BayCare issue, but a national issue, and has to be tackled from a regional perspective, said Dewey Mitchell, broker/owner of Berkshire Hathaway, Florida Properties Group and a BayCare board member.

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  1. Avatar

    Rose Smith-Hayes

    June 21, 2019at9:10 am

    I have two family members that would benefit, one is disabled but could be employed with some assistance. The other is employed but could use assistance to remain employed.

  2. Avatar

    Cindy LaValle

    June 21, 2019at9:28 am

    How can a community member become involved?

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