Ravi Chari, MD, president at HCA West Florida Division.

By Vjollca Hysenlika

The Tampa Bay region, like the nation, is grappling with record numbers of suicide rates, substance abuse and opioid deaths.

That is why BayCare and 30 other organizations have joined forces to develop a regional mental health initiative and an entity called the West Central Florida Mental Wellness Coalition to help improve outcomes for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders in Tampa Bay and West Central Florida.

Leaders from BayCare and local hospitals, behavioral health providers, law enforcement, government agencies, schools and leading corporations launched the entity and the initiative during an event on June 20 at the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center in Tampa.

“Our community is in a crisis, and that’s why we need everyone’s support to help make a change,” Tommy Inzina, president and CEO of BayCare, told the guests. “This is not just a BayCare issue. It’s a community issue. BayCare is the convener, and we’re trying to create momentum and provide a platform.”

Through this coalition, the goal is to bring together organizations from the region to destigmatize mental health and substance abuse, create urgent care access, and enhance navigational resources.

“This is an issue that’s very personal to me, and I’m very grateful for this initiative,” said Dewey Mitchell, member of the BayCare Board of Trustees and broker and owner of Berkshire Hathaway at Florida Properties Group in Pasco County.

“I’ve had a loved one who struggled with substance abuse. I’m one of those people that didn’t know where to turn. I felt lonely and helpless. I am sure that there are some people in this room who may feel the same way I do.”

Other speakers shared the same sentiment. Participating leaders like Ravi Chari, MD, president at HCA West Florida Division; Chris Nocco, sheriff at Pasco County Sheriff’s Department; and Tracye Brown, assistant superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, made the case for change and asked others to get involved.

“Mental health and substance abuse are changing everything we do in law enforcement,” said Sheriff Nocco. “Last year alone, we handled more than 19,000 mental health calls in Pasco County, and about 11 percent of them were mental health related.”

The participating organizations plan to create a governing board and a professional core team to accomplish their goals.

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