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Hillsborough, BayCare to spend $4 million on mental health needs

BayCare is matching Hillsborough County’s federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act.
High school volunteers promoted Tampa Bay Thrives' "Let's Talk" helpline during a University of South Florida football game in Tampa last year.
High school volunteers promoted Tampa Bay Thrives' "Let's Talk" helpline during a University of South Florida football game in Tampa last year. [ Tampa Bay Thrives ]
Published Feb. 18|Updated Feb. 18

TAMPA — Hillsborough County residents will soon benefit from a $4 million investment in their mental health.

The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday approved spending nearly $2 million to provide mental and behavioral health services for residents impacted by COVID-19. A matching program from BayCare Health System doubles the investment in mental health programs to $4 million.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve a contract with mental health nonprofit Tampa Bay Thrives. The money comes from the $285 million in federal funds the county received through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, a federal program within the American Rescue Plan Act.

The $2 million will be distributed through August 2024 and will allow Tampa Bay Thrives to expand its “Let’s Talk” helpline, provide short-term counseling, and address mental health stigma through a media campaign.

Carrie Zeisse is the president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives.
Carrie Zeisse is the president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives. [ Tampa Bay Thrives ]

“There are individuals in Hillsborough County who truly need help,” said Carrie Zeisse, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives. “Our county government recognized that and has been incredibly supportive of this community health system.”

Zeisse said Tampa Bay Thrives applied for funding last fall and learned the proposal was gaining momentum shortly after New Year’s Day. She didn’t know that the funds would receive unanimous approval until Wednesday.

Most of the $2 million will go towards “Let’s Talk,” Zeisse said, the nonprofit’s 24-hour support line for individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues. The organization plans to contract with more counselors to answer calls, follow up with callers and refer them to community programs for ongoing support.

The nonprofit will also contract with therapists to provide short-term telehealth counseling, Zeisse said. Due to the community’s high demand for therapy and the shortage of counsellors, initial appointments with mental health providers are often made weeks or months out. The new short-term counseling services will allow people who need professional support to get help in the interim.

The funding also enables Tampa Bay Thrives to conduct an annual survey on the impact COVID-19 has had on residents’ mental health and substance use, results of which will be shared with the community.

The organization also plans to launch a campaign that encourages people to take proactive measures to care for their mental health. The nonprofit is still planning the medium and other details of the campaign, Zeisse said.

“Our vision would be talking about our mental health like it’s our physical health without any stigma or shame,” she said.

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Need help?

The Tampa Bay Thrives’ “Let’s Talk” helpline can be reached at 833-3425-1111.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, reach out to the 24–hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741; or chat with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay can be reached by dialing 211 or by visiting crisiscenter.com. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or visit veteranscrisisline.net.

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Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.

Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.

The U.S.: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.

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How to get vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:

Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.

More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.

Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

TTY: 888-720-7489

Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.

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