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Florida County Addresses Behavioral Health Shortage with Free Telehealth Services

May 4, 2018
by Heather Landi
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To address a shortage of behavioral healthcare providers in Polk County, Florida, county officials launched a program to provide uninsured and low-income county residents with free access to behavioral health providers via telehealth services.

According to an article in the News Chief, a Winter Haven, Fla.-based newspaper, free mental health services, including medications, are now available to an estimated 84,000 low-income, uninsured Polk County residents, courtesy of a voter-approved half-cent sales tax for indigent health care.

Polk County signed a contract with Impower, a behavioral health provider in Central Florida, to bring telehealth services to the county’s medically vulnerable residents. These residents, some of whom live in rural areas, will access behavioral health services through a secured, HIPPA-compliant connection on a smartphone, computer or tablet. Residents who do not have access to mobile devices can use specific sites within the county that are set up for online sessions. Services will be available to uninsured residents, living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

According to the News Chief article, Impower partners with a pharmacy that guarantees free delivery of medications within 24 hours, either delivered to their home or sent through the mail in a HIPPA-compliant manner that guarantees privacy.

In November 2016, Polk County voters OK’d extending for 25 years a half-cent sales tax to provide health care services for indigent residents. The sales tax raises approximately $40 million a year and pays for a wide range of healthcare services, including Polk County’s share of supplying Medicaid services, the News Chief article states.

“The indigent healthcare fund helps make providers available and removes barriers for our residents in connecting with them,” Health and Human Services Division Director Marcia Andresen said in a statement in a Polk County press release about the initiative. “And, this partnership with Impower is a great opportunity to do more of that for behavioral health”

Based on the fee-for-service contract, Polk could fund up to $2 million in services over a three-year period. Impower began in 1994 and now serves about 11,000 patients on the telehealth platform.

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