Caring for the Whole Person

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health experts had acknowledged a growing problem with serving the behavioral health care needs of Americans. There were too few locations offering mental health services. There were too few providers to adequately serve those who needed help. Then the pandemic hit, and the problem deepened into a crisis.

In February 2021, the BayCare Board of Trustees responded, announcing substantial new investments to expand mental health services in outpatient and inpatient settings so that thousands more patients could be helped each year in the Tampa Bay and West Central Florida regions. In May 2021, BayCare announced it also would start a graduate education program to train more physicians in the specialty of psychiatry. In addition, procedures were created throughout the health system to ensure that patients visiting our facilities for treatment of physical ailments would be offered help for emotional needs, too. BayCare was committed to caring for the whole person.

Quick Progress

an exterior view of Northside Behavioral Health Center

BayCare Northside Behavioral Health Center

“2022 was a productive year,” said Gail Ryder, vice president of BayCare Behavioral Health Services, as the health system jumped to act on the trustees’ 2021 commitment to the public.

BayCare needed more behavioral health inpatient beds; more community treatment centers; more psychologists, psychiatrists and other providers; a presence in communities the health system hadn’t served previously; and ways to reassure patients that if they shared mental health needs with their physicians, their needs would be taken seriously and addressed.

Here are some of the ways BayCare began addressing those needs during 2022:

  • Social work liaisons and psychiatrists were placed in all BayCare hospitals to address patients’ mental health needs, prescribe medication and provide referrals for posthospital care.
  • BayCare welcomed its first class of seven resident physicians into the new BayCare Psychiatric Residency Program, which was created to help grow the number of psychiatrists. The program received 800 applications for the seven residency slots. Hundreds more applied for the six slots available for the second class, which starts in July 2023.
  • BayCare assumed ownership of not-for-profit Northside Behavioral Health Center in Tampa, a facility BayCare had managed for seven years. Northside offers outpatient therapeutic and psychiatric services for adults and children as well as community-based care services. It has 20 acute care beds, 12 residential beds and 78 beds in group homes and independent living apartments. BayCare plans to grow the center’s services.
  • BayCare designed and began executing a plan to expand the number of behavioral health outpatient offices it has throughout Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties.
  • The BayCare Employee Assistance Program helped many BayCare team members deal with the emotional stress of the pandemic, and now the health system has grown its assistance program to serve 60 outside organizations, including private companies, first responder departments, church congregations and students at 15 colleges, representing more than 200,000 individuals.
  • The health system designed and began construction on an innovative 24-bed behavioral health unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital-North in Lutz. The Unit for Psychiatry and Medicine is a state-of-the-art program to serve patients who have both acute medical problems and acute mental health issues.
  • Another innovation was adding a psychiatrist in the primary care physician practice on the campus of St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Having a psychiatrist embedded within a primary care physician’s office was a first for BayCare, but the behavioral health team believes it’s the way psychiatric care will be provided in the future.

“It’s the integration of medicine and psychiatry, and it’s now the standard of what we provide,” said Ryder. “A patient who comes into BayCare will always have available, at any point of entry, access to a behavioral health provider.”