Connect with us


County launches $9 million behavioral health program

Mark Parker



A much-anticipated new program will directly connect Pinellas County residents with mental health, substance abuse and addiction appointments and resources. Photo: Unsplash.

Pinellas County residents seeking help with behavioral health issues now have a new, innovative and streamlined resource as the long-awaited “Care About Me” program has launched.

The unique initiative serves those struggling with mental wellness, substance abuse and addictions by eliminating the arduous task of searching for local services during a turbulent time. County officials believe it can serve as a national model.

Care About Me provides experienced behavioral health specialists who screen residents and match them directly with local providers. Commissioners welcomed the news at their May 21 meeting.

“To me, this is probably one of the most important things we’ve ever done in this county,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers. “I can get a little emotional about it just because any of us who have had family members with issues like this know the importance of that connection.”

Planning for the coordinated access model (CAM) began in 2019. County administrators issued a request for proposals in November 2021 and Unite Us was the sole respondent.

Commissioners unanimously approved a four-year, $9.16 million contract with the national nonprofit in October 2022. American Rescue Plan Act funding will support about $1 million of the annual cost, with the human services general fund covering the remaining $1.3 million.

Karen Yactchum, director of human services, called Care About Me’s website and branded materials fresh and modern. She said the goal is to normalize behavioral health care, reduce stigmas and promote inclusivity.

Yatchum noted that county officials spent several months facilitating over 100 meetings with care providers and community partners to develop operational manuals, detailed workflows, communications and marketing plans. Stakeholders also established key program performance metrics.

“I’m just incredibly proud of the team,” said Administrator Barry Burton. “This is a model for the rest of the country to follow.”

Yatchum stressed that CAM was not a referral service. Pinellas residents can call, text or initiate an online chat with subject experts.

Unite Us staffers then collect information and conduct a behavioral health assessment. Yatchum said they send the data to care providers, reducing “the number of times our residents have to tell their story.”

“We built the CAM understanding that residents were in various stages of readiness to access care, and we wanted to provide as many options as possible,” she added. “While the CAM is not built for crisis care, Unite Us has hired very skilled clinicians who understand how to access the crisis system if the need arises.”

Psychiatry partners can also provide emergency medication refills between appointments. Yatchum said Care About Me’s staff will ensure providers accept new patients and a resident’s insurance.

Myriad area agencies and organizations have already joined the program. Over 200 residents participated in the testing phase, and Yatchum said 84% – “much higher than the standard rate” – went to their scheduled appointments.

She noted that the Pinellas County Public Defender’s Office called the CAM’s “constant communication and closed-loop notification system a breath of fresh air.” Yatchum shared an early success story of Unite Us professionals re-engaging a resident who missed a critical appointment.

After discussing the person’s readiness and comfortability, they secured a new appointment “within the hour.” The resident attended, and Yatchum said the patient is “now engaged in further treatment.”

“That story you told about somebody not going to their appointment is so critical,” Eggers said. “It could mean nothing – and it could also be a suicide the next day.”

Yatchum said she is only aware of one similar CAM nationwide. Commissioner Kathleen Peters also became emotional as she expressed Care About Me’s significance.

Peters credited the Care About Me team for a “herculean effort.” She noted the difficulty with launching a unique new program, and ensuring its success, but said the people overseeing it “persevered like superheroes.”

In addition to specialized treatment providers, residents can access counseling, support groups and educational resources through Care About Me. For more information, visit the website here or call 888-431-1998 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., and between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturdays and legal holidays.






Continue Reading
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Marty Brinsko, FAST Board Member

    May 29, 2024at9:34 am

    Just for the sake of completeness, the push for a CAM began during the fall of 2018, when FAST (Faith and Action for Strength Together) held small listening sessions of its members and heard dire stories about the difficulty of connecting with the correct mental health and addiction treatment resources in Pinellas County.

    In spring 2019, with over 2,500 people gathered at Tropicana Field, we asked them county administrator and two of the major funders of these services to work together to create a central pathway, a plan for accessing mental health and addiction services that had worked well elsewhere.

    Since those individuals agreed to work on the CAM, FAST members have attended commission meetings, met with individual commissioners and service providers,and made numerous follow-up phone calls to track and continue pressing for this program to be rolled out.

    We are delighted to hear that “Care About Me” is ready to serve our citizens. We appreciate the efforts of the county officials and the mental health care providers to make this happen. But the members of the 52 congregations in FAST know that our consistent efforts over the past five years have kept the community voice speaking loud and clear in support of this program.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us: spark@stpetecatalyst.com

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.