Commissioners Approved $9 Million for Behavioral Health • St Pete Catalyst

Pinellas County residents with behavioral health issues will soon have a new and innovative resource to take advantage of.

Commissioners unanimously approved funding of more than $9 million during Tuesday’s board meeting for the Pinellas County Coordinated Access Model for Behavioral Health. The funds will support the implementation and operation of the technically advanced system by the selected contractor, we united.

According to her websiteThe company’s infrastructure provides a coordination platform for people-centered care and practical engagement in the community. Unite Us partners with the University of South Florida to provide clinical support, and Director Barry Burton said district officials have devised the program over the past several years.

“Bringing a behavioral health program to Pinellas County is very exciting,” Commissioner Dave Eggers said. “I know this was a heavy burden, and we’re getting there.”

Karen Yachum, director of human services, explained that CAM will provide a centralized entry system to simplify access to care for residents of all ages. She said there will be a single number people can call, a website and text and online chat features where those in need can talk about what they are experiencing.

Unite Us will also provide virtual contacts through service providers and an electronic referral form for appointments. “That’s really kind of what we’re driving for,” Yachum added.

According to county documents, Unite Us offers proprietary software referrals and case management assignments between health and social services organizations on a common platform. The USF College of Behavioral Sciences will assist with primary health assessments, triage and appointments with caregivers, integration with crisis care services, and provide telehealth psychiatric consultations and prescriptions when needed.

“We also design this for helpers in our community,” Yachom said. “So, case managers, hospital discharge planners — those who really coordinate care for others.”

While CAM uses technology to alleviate behavioral health issues, she said officials will also work with community care centers for people who don’t have access to smartphones, computers or the Internet. These residents can go to local centers and get help.

Eggers noted that stigma still surrounds asking for help with behavioral issues, especially among veterans and first responders. Provincial leaders recently HEROES launched Specifically to meet this need.

Eggers said the CAM program would provide anonymity, and Yachum believed that the commissioners would be most proud of the network-building side of the program.

“It’s not just the service providers the county contracts with,” she explained. “We will really be looking to expand all of these services. Services targeting young people, services for veterans and first responders – that will be part of the network.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers said he was proud of the effort to create the programme, which began in December 2019. Image: Facebook.

Yachum reiterated that the platform is built with the needs of its customers in mind rather than service providers, and said it focuses on privacy and confidentiality and reduce any stigmas associated with it.

The documents indicate that officials issued a request for proposals in November 2021, and Unite Us was the only responder.

County officials deemed the company “highly qualified and able” to meet the project’s requirements and held three information sessions for vendors and stakeholders to request feedback. They find that other organizations are unable to provide the comprehensive services required.

The process began in December 2019 when officials sought to develop a strategic plan to strengthen the adult behavioral system in Pinellas County. A subsequent report outlined requirements included in the CAM, which Eggers said will launch in the spring of 2023.

The delegates unanimously approved a four-year contract with Unite Us for $9.158 million. The US Bailout Act allocations in the county will support about $1 million of the annual cost, with the General Fund for Human Services providing the remaining $1.3 million.

“I’m really proud of the effort,” Eggers said. “And I think Pinellas County residents would be much better at making that available.”

Yachum said program officials will begin building a marketing campaign in the coming months, and noted that Unite Us is well established in Florida and has staff already in Pinellas.

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