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HANDS Clinic Address St. Lucie’s Mental Health Needs in St. Lucie County

HANDS Clinic

St. Lucie County - Wednesday January 3, 2024: The HANDS Clinic in Fort Pierce is launching a mental health program to serve the uninsured and working poor in St. Lucie County.

St. Lucie County currently has one mental health provider for every 570 individuals. Most providers do not accept insurance. For individuals on Medicaid or without the ability to pay, waiting lists for treatment by nonprofit providers extend out as far as two years. Meanwhile, St. Lucie has a suicide rate of 16.4%, significantly above the average for the state of Florida, 13.8%.

The HANDS Clinic of St. Lucie County, a nonprofit volunteer-driven health provider, is creating a cost-effective and sustainable approach to meet the crisis, building on community partnerships.

Lisa Hatch, HANDS Executive Director of St. Lucie, is launching a new mental health service this month, along with some creative partners. HANDS will be giving some St. Lucie residents badly needed access to free mental health services.

“The HANDS Clinic depends on volunteers to provide care to the hundreds of patients who call this their medical home,” said Hatch in a news release. “Their mental health is as important as their physical health to them and to us. We’re so fortunate that local mental health providers have volunteered to help us expand our mental health services and create a whole new way of providing care.”

The care model depends on partnerships to support and expand the reach of the HANDS Clinic’s staff. A Nurse Practitioner certified in psychiatric care will provide ongoing care. Four local mental health providers have volunteered to guide and supervise the program. In a partnership with Florida Atlantic University, two students per semester from the university’s psychiatric health nurse practitioner program will spend their required 16 hours of clinical work at HANDS, so clients will have greater access to appointments at no cost.

“Welcoming nurse practitioner students to our program means we can see more clients,” Hatch said, “and also help to train the next generation of providers.”

Another partnership, this one with Pinnacle Wellness Group and local practitioner Dr. Kenneth Palestrant, will give patients access to medication-assisted treatment.

The St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners, another key partner, has committed $150,000 to upgrade HANDS Clinic space to add two mental health rooms for on-site therapy.

Dr. Gene Manko, Chief Medical Director for HANDS, helped to spur the program’s development. “Our clients deserve the best in mental health care,” Manko said, “and the ability to receive that care in a timely manner. Thanks to our partners, we now have a model of care that will meet their needs.”