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Good mental health services shouldn’t be exclusive

July 12, 2023 |3 minute read time

Four people at a CVS Pharmacy mobile van for health screenings

When he was a freshman honor student at Morehouse College, Dr. Taft Parsons III recalls walking to a restaurant near campus with a few friends.

“We were just strolling to get some food to eat and a police officer jumped out of the back of a van that we had not noticed or been aware of, with his gun drawn,” says Taft. “And he shouted: ‘I could have killed you!’”

Today, as the chief psychiatric officer at CVS Health® — and one of only 2% of psychiatrists in the United States who are Black — Taft has a unique lens on mental health impacts of experiencing racism and discrimination.

“(Racism) creates a heightened sense of fear and stress that the general population just simply doesn’t have to deal with,” he adds.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which highlights the unique mental health challenges and needs of historically disenfranchised or oppressed racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

Americans of color are frequently over-diagnosed as having psychotic conditions when, for example, they may actually have depression, says Taft, adding that there is extensive data that shows that when black patients have a black provider, they have better outcomes.

He adds that addressing mental health concerns is also critical to physical health. “There is no health without mental health.”

Taft Parsons in front grey background

Racism creates a heightened sense of fear and stress that the general population just simply doesn’t have to deal with.

Dr. Taft Parsons III,

Chief Psychiatric Officer at CVS Health

Taft Parsons in front grey background

Meeting people where they are

Recognizing the difficulty of accessing mental health treatment when demand is high, CVS Health’s Project Health initiative deploys mobile vans into local communities nationwide to locations such as churches, community centers and homeless shelters to conduct physical and mental health screenings for early identification of health conditions.

“Anyone who screens positive for any physical or mental health conditions has an on-site consult with a nurse practitioner and is provided a directory of local health care providers,” explains Sheryl Burke, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and chief sustainability officer.

“A lot of our participants tell us that the Project Health screening is the only time they see a doctor in a given year,” adds Sheryl. “So, we feel it’s really important to be in the right places in communities around the country.”

To that end, CVS Health has added nearly 100 community organizations over the past year to host its Project Health mobile units and plans to host nearly 2,000 Project Health screening events in 2023. This year, free depression screenings were also added.

At Crossroads Rhode Island, the state's leading provider of housing and homeless services, transportation is a significant obstacle for accessing physical and mental health care, says Jennifer Watkins, vice president of emergency shelters, housing problem solving at Crossroads Rhode Island.

“Having the van come to our locations — it's a huge barrier that just evaporates,” Jennifer says.

That’s why it’s important to collaborate with people who know the community best, offers Sheryl.

“We know that trust with health care providers is a historic issue. We want to bring health services to people that need it most.”

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Tackling public health challenges with heart