A mother putting a mask on her child

Changing the face of mental health for the better

How the Pinellas Wellness Connection keeps changing the face of mental health for the better, finally. 

The world has changed no doubt. Many of those changes could not be classified as positive, however, when it comes to mental health, the improvement is spectacular, at least in our community. Mental health has always been a hush-hush conversation, certainly not something to be spoken about or acknowledged in public. Jerry Wennlund, a former CEO of PEMHS, used the following analogy: “When you break your arm, without a second thought, you go to the ER to get it looked at. When you get a cast, you are not ashamed of it but you understand that a cast is needed for your arm to heal. When you feel depressed or experience any kind of mental health discomfort, you hide it, you don’t tell anyone, you don’t go get help and you usually wait until it’s too late. Why? Why is it not ok to fix our mind and it is ok to fix our body? We depend on both for our well-being.” When I first heard this analogy, I was amazed by the simplicity of his explanation and, at the same time, astonished that in the 21st century we are still ostracising each other for being human.

Little did I know, that only two years after I first heard this story, a group of mental health providers and a health provider in Pinellas County would join forces by forming the Pinellas Wellness Connection, and a new era would dawn. The Pinellas Wellness Connection is a community collaborative to improve access to behavioral health services.

Working together has shown to be the most efficient and effective way to provide care. This partnership brings together mental and physical health care providers to build a wellness-based future for Pinellas County residents.

Through on-site and virtual collaboration between behavioral health treatment providers, local acute care receiving facilities, community primary care providers, homeless providers, NAMI, law enforcement, educational institutions, and the faith-based community, Pinellas County can ultimately create and sustain a seamless integrated behavioral health care system, where individuals can receive appropriate, timely, and quality behavioral health care. The Pinellas Wellness Connection serves as a single point of entry and virtual hub linking the spokes of the ambulatory community network through a “no wrong door” approach to screening and assessment. Case management, care coordination, and outpatient services will assure rapid linkage and connectivity.

At the end of 2020, the providers supported and spread the YouGood Behavioral Health Campaign that aimed to create a single, unified message that communicates the availability of and access to support, resources, and assistance for people dealing with mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse issues. The goal of this campaign was to saturate Pinellas County with one common contact point for all mental health, behavioral health, and substance abuse issues.

The Campaign was created to normalize authentic feelings and experiences and offer support and resources to people in Pinellas County, no matter what they’re going through. They worked together to raise awareness, destigmatize the conversation of mental health, and provide a cohesive message of unity, support, and understanding to everyone who is struggling to cope in Pinellas County.

At the forefront of this unique alliance is a mental health provider from Pinellas Park, Personal Enrichment through Mental Health Services, Inc., locally known as PEMHS. PEMHS is a non-profit organization that provides behavioral health services to children and adults. They are dedicated to providing person-centered services that enhance individual and family functioning along with the personal development of adults and children in our community. PEMHS is committed to serving as a collaborative partner in the system of care to ensure immediate interventions and supportive recovery are accessible to community members for optimal behavioral health. It is the vision of PEMHS to be the preferred organization for individuals seeking safe, secure, caring, and compassionate services.

For the past 40 years, PEMHS has been providing services on two campuses, rain or shine, 24/7. Their dedicated staff and comprehensive range of programs are designed to meet the needs of children, adults, and families to build strong communities for the indigent client, as well as those with insurance. Now, they need your help. PEMHS, along with their partners in the Pinellas Wellness connection, created a vision of the future in which everyone has access to services by warm hand-offs to appropriate community partners. No one will be left unattended and no one will be missed.

The purpose of the new PEMHS Campus Master Plan is to provide the children of our community with a new and modern crisis unit, and PEMHS’ core community partners with a community diversion center as a direction for new and improved facilities, and to better accommodate their existing mental health services and programs. This plan also intends to provide additional services, through PBHSOC (Pinellas Behavioral Health System of Care) Community Partners to be located on the PEMHS campus.

By separating the new children’s unit in a state-of-the-art community diversion center building, PEMHS will allow for a more children-centered, more therapeutic, and wellness-conducing environment for a faster and long-term recovery and well-being of our children. A new 20 bed Children’s CSSU will be designed to enhance the therapeutic environment, allow for the separation of young children and older youths, provide adequate space for assessment, and provide additional space for therapeutic recreation.

Help them raise the necessary funds by donating on their website during their Giving Tuesday 2021 Fundraising event (11/30/2021) to make this community dream come true!

Click here to donate!