The drug store isn’t just for cough drops and Band-Aids anymore.
Around Tampa Bay, customers can now seek help with stress, social isolation, relationships, anxiety, depression and other mental health matters at a handful of neighborhood CVS pharmacies. The chain recently opened counseling services in four states, with seven in the Tampa Bay region, including stores in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa.
“The need, it’s huge right now,” said Cathi Bedy, one of the licensed clinical social workers CVS brought on for the enterprise. Bedy said she is now seeing 25-30 people a week at a Largo CVS.
And the issues are diverse: “Last month I had a lot of people that were very, very stressed out about returning to the workplace,” she said.
A recent CVS news release notes that Florida ranks among the lowest states for access to mental health care. The chain was already exploring adding counseling at their MinuteClinics, where customers can go for flu shots, minor conditions like ear infections and pinkeye and even to set up sleep tests for people who snore.
But events of last year — including politics, civil unrest and the unprecedented changes in how we live brought on by the coronavirus — accelerated the need, Ashley Karpinski, CVS’ senior director of behavioral health, strategy and innovation, told the Tampa Bay Times.
Clients see therapists at appointments available days, evenings and weekends. They meet in private rooms in the store. There’s an introductory conversation for an initial assessment, then counseling, and if needed, referral for higher-level care.
There’s also a “telehealth” or virtual option for people who can’t or prefer not to meet face-to-face. Demand for remote services for healthcare soared in the pandemic when people were locked down and socially distanced.
“It was a necessity during COVID,” Karpinski said. “And now I think it’ll be something people find is a convenience.”
For payment, CVS works with clients’ insurance companies or employee assistance programs that sometimes cover a specific number of counseling sessions. For people who pay out of pocket, it’s $129 for an evaluation and $89 for a 45-minute counseling session.
CVS also added mental health counseling in Houston, Philadelphia and South New Jersey, with plans to expand, Karpinski said.
Given the global-scale stressor that the pandemic has been, the number of people seeking mental health services has jumped, said Dr. Ryan Wagoner, psychiatrist and vice chair for clinical services for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the University of South Florida.
“When you have something that’s sustained over a year and changes your entire way of life and will probably change the way we do certain things for the foreseeable future, that’s going to make an impact on people,” he said. “And it’s still ongoing.”
Wagoner said as long as care comes from qualified people, he thinks an in-store option is “a great idea.”
“The demand is so high for this, any areas we can get a better supply of individuals providing this kind of care, I’m all for it,” he said.
Local CVS locations offering mental health counseling are at:
- 5357 Ehrlich Road, Tampa
- 8001 9th St. N, St. Petersburg
- 303 US Highway 19 N, Clearwater
- 5905 US Highway 301 S, Riverview
- 8905 Bryan Dairy Road, Largo
- 1929 Bruce B Downs Blvd., Wesley Chapel
- 5020 S Florida Ave., Lakeland
More information is at cvs.com/mentalhealth.