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Board approves the creation of a mental-health helpline

Senior Editor Top Stories

Health and WellnessFlorida Bar members would get free access to a confidential, 24-hour mental health helpline, possibly this summer, under a contract approved March 20 by the Executive Committee.

The Executive Committee met via conference call to consider a host of agenda items from a Board of Governors meeting that was cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

The Program Evaluation Committee, also meeting via conference call, voted unanimously the day before to approve the helpline proposal.

“The Program Evaluation Committee thought this was an extraordinary benefit for our members,” Chair Scott Westheimer told fellow Executive Committee members.

The idea originated with the Special Committee on the Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers, and was first suggested in 2017 by its chair, President-elect Dori Foster-Morales. The special committee was appointed by former President Michael Higer in the wake of the suicides of prominent South Florida lawyers and ABA studies that showed the legal profession was at increased risk of substance abuse and other mental-health issues.

“The unanimity of the vote yesterday [by the PEC] obviously speaks a lot,” Foster-Morales told the Executive Committee.

The proposal calls for the Bar to contract with CorpCare Associates, Inc., an Atlanta-based, employee-assistance program provider that has satellite offices in Florida and North Carolina.

Founded in 1991, CorpCare Associates boasts more than 11,000 licensed mental-health professionals nationwide, with more than 200 Florida-based therapists, and plans to hire more.

CorpCare provides similar services to state bars in Georgia, South Carolina, and Maryland.

Under the three-year contract with The Florida Bar, some 93,000 eligible members would have free access to a confidential helpline staffed 24/7/365 by mental-health professionals. If needed, the provider would pay for Florida Bar members to receive up to three in-person therapy sessions per member, per year.

CorpCare offered the Bar steeply discounted rates for the first two years of the contract, $150,000 and $200,000, respectively, given the uncertainty over initial utilization rates, Westheimer said. The contract calls for the third-year cost to rise to $279,000, an amount that will be capped regardless of utilization.

Executive Committee members and board members who were invited to dial into the meeting, called the proposal especially fortuitous, given the stress and economic uncertainty that have gripped the nation since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This is exceptionally timely, given what we’re going through,” said Executive Committee Member Wayne Smith.

“I expect there will be an increase in our mental-health needs given the current circumstances,” said Public Board Member Sharon Middleton.

Foster-Morales said committee members are working with Bar staff on a promotion plan.

“We’re at a real inflection point in our society right now,” Foster-Morales said. “We’re working on a plan right now, with lots and lots of roll-out.”

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