Pinellas County Opens New Program to Help People Connect to Mental Health and Addiction Services

Casey Albritton | ABC Action News

May 22, 2024

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month and now, people in Pinellas County have a new place to turn to for help.

The county is launching a new program that will help residents get access to mental health and addiction services.

Officials said the new program is called “Care About Me.” It’s a number people can call that will help connect residents to local mental health and addiction services.

People in a non-crisis situation can call 1-888-431-1998, speak with specialists, and get an appointment scheduled with a local provider before hanging up the phone.

It’s something Kelly Lajb said is important.

“I lived my whole life with ‘I can do it, I don’t need anybody’…But once I had that humbling moment of ‘wait a minute, I can’t do this on my own’…I reached out for help,” said Lajb.

Lajb is three years in recovery from addiction and said reaching out to someone is the first step.

“That was the most difficult conversation I’ve had was asking for help, but the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It’s an empowering thing to take your own life back,” said Lajb.

She now works at Footprints Beachside Recovery, which helps people who struggle with addiction, substance abuse, and mental health.

“This last year, our numbers are way higher than they’ve been in the previous years. We’ve been getting a ton of phone calls for different mental health resources,” said Lajb.

The organization houses clients who need recovery… and in 2024, it has seen a 16% increase in the number of people needing help compared to 2023.

“The strong demand of the mental health awareness and crisis in our area over the last few years is, I feel, directly correlated to isolation, working remotely that started during COVID times, people are isolated from their friends and family, they can order groceries online, they can order food online,” said Lajb.

That increase is a big reason why Pinellas County is opening up a new program to residents, called “Care About Me.”

“What kept being reported was that our residents didn’t really know how to access these services, until sometimes a crisis occurred,” said Karen Yatchum with Pinellas County.

Local leaders said the new program will help decrease the number of calls being made to the county’s crisis hotline.

County leaders say the 988 crisis hotline should only be used for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or who are in an emergency.

The “Care About Me” program is for people who need help finding services.

“We hired intentionally skilled clinicians with a multitude of experience…with a goal that they will be able to meet residents where they are,” said Yatchum.

Lajb hopes people take advantage of it.

“If anyone anybody is out there in that struggling position, I mean, I just encourage you. You are not alone,” said Lajb.

**Pinellas County has partnered with funders of Behavioral Health Services to create Care About Me, which is a Coordinated Access Model. These partners formed the Pinellas Integrated Care Alliance, which is comprised of Pinellas County Government, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, the Juvenile Welfare Board, and the Florida Department of Health Pinellas.

Collectively, these partners have committed to improving the performance of the Pinellas County Behavioral Health System and with that commitment have supported the development of the Consumer-Focused Coordinated Access Model which focuses on reducing barriers to access treatment, improving coordination and warm hand-offs, and increasing consistency in practices related to screening, assessment and triage.**

View the news segment and read the article as originally published at