IMPOWER providing counseling services

LaBELLE — A nonprofit provider of behavioral and mental health services that’s well-established farther up the Florida peninsula has come to Hendry, Glades and Highlands counties. Its representatives are making the rounds of public meetings to make local elected officials aware of its availability and to help get the word out.

But IMPOWER is going about its important work in an innovative new way that will be available to residents of southwest-central Florida. The organization’s executives believe their methods of providing treatment inside people’s homes, in schools and in various community-based settings — more widely enabled now through live teleconferencing via the internet — will encourage people in need of help but who are deterred by the stigma of seeing a psychiatrist or the cost of seeking treatment.

Founded in 1994 as Intervention Services Inc., IMPOWER has its roots in Central Florida, with offices in Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia counties. Already it serves more than 9,000 individuals and families per year through its “continuum of services dedicated to helping individuals and famlies achieve the skills and tools needed to lead safe, healthy, meaningful and productive lives,” according to its website, impowerfl.org.

Amy-Erin Blakely, vice president of behavioral health operations for the agency, appeared by invitation before the Hendry County commissioners on Tuesday, March 26. Board Chairman Mitchell Wills let her go on at some length to explain the IMPOWER agency’s services.

“We’ve been asked to come in because we have a special type of service delivery called Telehealth, which means that we’re able to provide services to individuals from their laptops, home computer or smartphone,” Ms. Blakely explained. “So we have a contract with Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, and we’ve been working with them quite a bit on trying to take over some of the mental health services for members of this county. We have a program manager that we’ve hired. Her name is Wendy Amos, and she’s been working to try to advertise and get the word out that we can provide behavioral health services.”

She said that IMPOWER is “Florida’s leading provider of tele-behavioral health services,” adding that the difficulty people face in getting these types of help is well-known.

“Psychiatric services, our psychiatric evaluations, ongoing medication management — everything we do is electronic, so we can prescribe electronically to the patient’s chosen pharmacy, and we are able to in some cases get medications delivered to the patient’s door within 24 hours at no cost to them. We have a slew of psychiatrists, ARNPs, PAs, LCSWs and about 35 mental health counselors that we’re able to utilize. So altogether we have about 50 practitioners that see patients statewide.”

Those advanced registered nurse practitioners, physician assistants and licensed clinical social workers are able to do individual or group counseling in person or remotely. Ms. Blakely went on:

“We can start spoke sites, in certain areas in the community, like in schools or hospitals or in physician practices, and individuals can come there and get services from their own practitioners if they don’t have access to technology or the internet. Or, if they do, then they’re able to get services from their own home. Most of our patients ‘see’ their practitioners from their smartphone.”

She said the connections are secure and their services are HIPAA compliant, that there are practitioners all over the state “just like our clients are … so if somebody needs a certain type or a certain language, we’re able to allocate … our resources.”

They’re available on evenings and weekends, and their platform allows multiple clients and practitioners to interact, if necessary, from separate locations, which also allows collaboration with physicians and guardians ad litem for children.

“The bottom line is, when we can deliver health care to people wherever they are, they’re more likely to seek treatment and they’re more likely to stay in treatment, so we’ve had some really good outcomes,” Ms. Blakely said.

Potential clients can visit their website at impowerfl.org and refer themselves or their children or even another person or persons for treatment, and it takes two to three days, she said, for a scheduler to call them and set up service. They accept most insurance plans and all Medicaid plans.

Free help is available to certain qualifying individuals. “This specific grant that we have is for indigent care so people who are at or below 200 percent of FPL (federal poverty level) and are uninsured,” Ms. Blakely said.

So, said Commissioner Michael Swindle, “everyone qualifies.”

Which is important, it was further pointed out, because a low percentage of people are being served in the three counties, as compared with coastal counties where services are more widely available. Ms. Blakely added in answer to a question from Commissioner Darrell Harris that she was to meet Wednesday with a large group of local education officials to try to establish some spoke sites inside the Hendry County schools and the community-based health program.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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