Tarrant County officials are trying to make it easier to access public health resources. 

The TXT4 Tarrant Cares program aims to connect residents to community resources. The already-established Tarrant Cares program offers a website with resources on everything from housing issues to recreation services. 

But the services that saw the highest increase in use during 2020 were mental and behavioral health resources. 

COVID-19 put added stress on the already struggling mental-health providers in Tarrant County. To meet demand for childhood mental health services, Tarrant County needs 47 psychiatrists for every 100,000 kids, pre-pandemic; it had four. 

“We have more needs than we do have services,” Virginia Hoft, executive director of Mental Health Connection Tarrant County said.

The use of those services increased 82 percent in 2020 compared with 2019. Mental health advocates who work closely with the program said the format of Tarrant Cares is ideal to help residents access the services they need and that is especially important post-pandemic. 

“There’s been a big storm that came through and it blew your house apart,” Hoft said. “And now that the winds are not blowing you’re looking around and seeing the damage that was done.”

Last month, the newest iteration of the Tarrant Cares program rolled out. TXT4 Tarrant Cares was born out of the need for a simple, discreet way to access the Tarrant Cares website. Users just text FIND to 67629. From there, they are guided to the resources they’re looking for. 

The Tarrant Cares hotline started in May 2021. Residents can text the Tarrant Cares number and will receive language options and links to resources in the county. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

‘Help at your fingertips’

After you text FIND to 67629, the system will ask what language you want to proceed in. Then, it will direct you to the Tarrant Cares website and ask you to input your ZIP code and how close you want your services to be.

Then it will take you through 10 questions to understand what kind of services you need. You can also select multiple needs. For example, you can ask for services related to alcohol abuse and access to housing. 

At the end of the questionnaire, it will give you a list of resources with their distance from you, a phone number, address, and a bit of information about the service. 

From there you can reach out to that service. Or, if that isn’t what you’re looking for you can call 211 or start another search. A crisis line through My Health My Resources, or MHMR, 817-335-3022, is available 24/7 through call or text.

The program’s purpose 

“There are so many kinds of subsets of mental health challenges that a lot of times people don’t know where to start,” Hoft said.

Multiple mental health advocacy organizations came together to support the platform because it fits into their missions. 

MHMR worked with Tarrant Cares “from the beginning, said Susan Garnett, the agency’s CEO. 

“We saw an opportunity for people to say, ‘I’m here in Tarrant County and I know I have this need that I’m interested in finding out more about,’ Garnett said. “But you didn’t have to be very complicated and very well-honed in exactly what you’re looking for.”

The texting platform is an alternative to calling 211. The county spoke with members of the Stop Six Community who said making a call to access mental health services can be intimidating. 

“I think asking for help is easier with texting than any other thing right now,” Hoft said

The program partnered with Cook Children’s in Fort Worth to implement the service. Cook Children’s leads the ACEs Task Force, which aims to ease stress in early childhood and create better outcomes for Tarrant County kids. 

Advocates say the resource comes on time, as demand for mental health services has risen as a result of the pandemic. Based on her decades in the business, Lena Zettler, director of psychology at Cook Children’s, said the mental health crisis was “as bad as she has ever seen it.”

Effective access 

“Access to mental health issues was pretty difficult, even before the pandemic,” Zettler said. “So having something that helps families connect more immediately, whether it’s information or connecting to a resource I think is helpful.”

The platform works well for mental health services because it encourages people to reach out for help before their issue becomes a crisis, Hoft said. 

The casual nature of texting also helps to combat the shame that is sometimes associated with accessing mental health resources. That’s because texting is often more private than a phone call or in-person conversation, or navigating to a website on your own. 

Another factor is the all-hours aspect of the service. 

“Tarrant Cares lets you look things up at all hours and then it can direct you to services where you can call in the morning,” Garnett said.  

The county is still waiting on data to see how often the texting platform is being used, the county promotes the platform through social media in the hopes that it will continue to gain traction in the community. 

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Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...

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