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How Tampa Bay Thrives hopes to help our community through the pandemic | Column
With anxiety and depression on the rise, a coalition provides services to help people cope.
Health care workers wait for vehicles at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Clearwater. The pandemic has been hard on the mental and physical health of many Tampa Bay residents.
Health care workers wait for vehicles at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Clearwater. The pandemic has been hard on the mental and physical health of many Tampa Bay residents. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Nov. 18, 2020

The pandemic is taking a tremendous toll on our mental health and well-being in Tampa Bay area and around the country.

Nationally, anxiety and depression rates have risen sharply. Over the summer, a whopping 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with behavioral health challenges, including both mental and substance use disorders. While the pandemic, economic instability and racial tensions have meaningfully exacerbated these challenges, unfortunately they are not new. Many of our families, friends and neighbors have long suffered in silence.

Eric Obeck
Eric Obeck [ Provided ]

Fortunately, Tampa Bay area health care systems, providers, hospitals, law enforcement, school systems, governments and charitable foundations were already all coming together like never before. Their hope was to meet this community health need and provide a blueprint for communities across the country to do the same. And their mission has only become more important as a result of the pandemic.

Their avenue is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization called Tampa Bay Thrives, which will be providing help for those struggling with mental health and substance use problems. When the pandemic hit — and access to behavioral health supports became more important than ever before — this diverse cross-sector coalition quickly sprang to action. With technical support from McKinsey’s Center for Societal Benefit through Healthcare, Tampa Bay Thrives has been laying the groundwork for a community pilot effort that will:

· Provide 24/7 immediate access to behavioral health navigation through a dedicated phone line staffed by mental health professionals who will assess needs and direct people to the right help.

· Deliver virtual behavioral urgent care with licensed mental health professionals for those who cannot wait for appointments with local providers.

Beyond the pilot effort, Tampa Bay Thrives has also prioritized reducing the stigma around behavioral health conditions. Stigma can prevent individuals with poor mental health from seeking treatment, contributing to poor outcomes. Tampa Bay Thrives aims to reduce stigma so that individuals feel comfortable seeking care for behavioral health concerns, just as they would for physical health concerns.

This unprecedented collaborative effort was initiated by BayCare Health System before the pandemic. In 2019, BayCare first brought together a diverse group of constituents focused on the need to address community health issues collaboratively, followed by pledging a financial match of $5 million.

Other funders have committed $2.7 million to date. Among them are healthcare leaders like AdventHealth, HCA Healthcare, Florida Blue and Tampa General Hospital; law enforcement agencies like the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Clearwater Police Department; charitable foundations like the Tampa Bay Rays Foundation, Bon Secours Mercy Health Foundation, The Mosaic Company Foundation and the Dimmitt Family Foundation — and many other organizations.

Tampa Bay Thrives is proving to be a lesson in the benefits of effective collaboration. Health care system and hospital CEOs, who in a highly competitive industry traditionally don’t often collaborate, are now working more closely than ever before on community issues. This new effort promises to make a major impact in addressing the mental health and substance use issues so many of our residents face.

This continues to be a tremendously challenging time for our community, as COVID-19 has many folks in isolation, which compounds the problems of depression and substance use. If you have family or friends who are showing warning signs, check in with them, and encourage them to seek help. And remember that socialization — even if it isn’t in-person — can help someone’s mental outlook.

Also, I encourage funders and community organizations to learn more about Tampa Bay Thrives at www.tampabaythrives.org.

Eric Obeck has been chairman of the board of BayCare Health System since January 2019. Based in Tampa, he is senior regional president at Hancock Whitney Bank and also oversees the bank’s Healthcare Banking Group.