HANDS Clinic Takes Bold Steps to Address St. Lucie’s Mental Health Crisis

Posted on January 11, 2024

Mental health is at a crisis point in St. Lucie County. In response to the crisis, the HANDS Clinic is launching a cutting edge mental health program to serve the uninsured and working poor of the community.


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. 


“The HANDS Clinic depends on volunteers to provide care to the hundreds of patients who call this their medical home,” said HANDS Executive Director Lisa Hatch. “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, 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.”


About The HANDS Clinic

The HANDS Clinic is  a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that provides free healthcare services to qualified uninsured St. Lucie County residents between the ages of 19 and 64. Staffed  by volunteer physicians and other volunteer healthcare providers, the Clinic offers no-cost primary care and specialty care, the only free adult dental clinic in St. Lucie, vision care, lab tests, medication assistance, and health education. It also offers a full service Women’s Health program from well-woman care through pap smears, ultrasound, birth control, specialty gynecological care, and referrals for mammograms. It is located at 3855 S. US 1 in Fort Pierce. For more information, contact  the HANDS Clinic at 772-462-5646, at www.HANDSof, or