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Every day, hundreds of sick and injured patients walk into free and charitable clinics around the Tampa Bay area in need of a doctor.Many are suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Some patients were referred to the clinics by staff at hospitals where they landed after years of neglecting to care for treatable conditions.The clinics allow the patients to pay what they can, or nothing at all. They are staffed by doctors and nurses who volunteer their time. They survive off donations and small grants.Many of the patients have jobs but they are living paycheck to paycheck. None have health insurance, either because they do not qualify for Medicaid or can’t afford private coverage. For these patients, the clinics are often their only option for primary care.

Crisis Center President: 'A Behavioral Health Tsunami Is Coming'

Clara Reynolds, president of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, tells Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that it takes about six months to see the full effects of trauma.
Screenshot from the Florida Channel livestream
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The has seen an increase from a couple of hundred calls a day to sometimes thousands because of the coronavirus.

They started tracking the calls that come in through 2-1-1 on Feb. 29.

At a mental health roundtable Thursday afternoon in Tampa, Clara Reynolds, the President of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, told Gov. Ron DeSantis that a "behavioral health tsunami” is coming.

“It will take about six months. If you look at trauma, if you look at post-traumatic issues, it takes about six months before they'll happen,” Reynolds said. “So all of us are preparing for an October, November time where individuals are going to need help."

Reynolds said the calls are sometimes about a fear of getting sick or dying, but says when you “peel back the layers of the onion,” are usually more about job losses, paying bills, and concerns about their children withdrawing.

She said telehealth is going to be key to providing this help.

DeSantis touts Florida as one of the first states to loosen telehealth restrictions during the beginning of the pandemic. Restrictions were also loosened on the federal level, allowing people to get services remotely that insurance providers typically would not have covered.

The Department of Children and Families is reporting about a 40 percent improvement in the number of people who attend their scheduled appointments, and they say that’s mostly because of telehealth.

Chad Poppell, the secretary of DCF, said the virus forced the department and medical professionals around the state to use a service that’s been around for a long time, but wasn’t used as much because of reliability and privacy concerns, as well as insurance restrictions.

He expects DCF will continue to use telehealth appointments moving forward, even after treatments and a vaccine for the virus are developed.  

“From our perspective, we are seeing some of the top-line numbers that we really care about really improve,” Poppell said. “So it’s something that at the department - we don’t want to go back."

Poppell says resources can't help unless people know about them and use them - and telehealth is making it easier for some to access their services.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.