Pinellas County introduces new program aimed at connecting residents with mental health providers

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Pinellas County is helping link people to mental health, substance use and addiction help in a more streamlined way.

It’s through a new program called Care About Me that launched on Tuesday. Residents can call or text the program’s phone line and get connected to providers.

"This is part of taking care of yourself," said Karen Yatchum, the director of human services for Pinellas County. "It should be the same as going to your primary care physician or your dentist."

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The goal, Yatchum said, is to connect residents who are not in a crisis to providers. Anyone who lives in Pinellas County can call or text 1-888-431-1998, and they’ll go through a screening and get matched with someone who can help.

"The Care About Me program should be considered a first step for residents," Yatchum said. "Our hope is that residents are connected to services before they need the crisis system."

"It really eliminates some of the questions or the guesswork that our residents have on how do they seek help," she said.

County officials worked with a national consultant several years ago that evaluated Pinellas County’s behavioral health system of care, Yatchum said. The consultant interviewed several people in the county.

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"The Care About Me coordinated access model was really built based on the feedback that we had received from our community stakeholders," she said. "We are aware of one, maybe two, nationally that exist, and so this really would be the first for Florida."

Right now, they’re working with more than 20 providers and are looking for more to join the program. They have 63 appointments on hold total each week for residents who call in.

"I think this program is, really, really, really important. Not just because of Mental Health Awareness Month. It's important every day," Yatchum said. "So, we have so many residents who are facing challenges and have struggled with mental health or substance use, and we want to give them one place to go that makes it easy for them."

The county provides about $1 million a year for the program. Yatchum said it’s money well spent.

"I really believe in this. We're lucky that our county administration and board of county commissioners has allowed us to do this," she said.

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The phone line is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturdays and holidays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Residents can also go on the program’s website and submit their information that way.

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, you can call 988. It’s a 24/7 suicide and crisis lifeline.


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