Depression and anxiety have touched millions of people in different ways during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is one of the reasons why billionaire businessman Ben Navarro has become so passionate about normalizing mental illness.
“Having mental health challenges is no different at all with having physical health challenges,” he said.
In a unique partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina, Navarro’s BEEMOK Family Foundation has launched a new practice on Calhoun Street called Modern Minds. The clinic aims to change the way anxiety and depression are treated by not only offering patients traditional therapy, but also pairing each individual with a wellness mentor.
Navarro, the founder and CEO of Sherman Financial Group who lives in Charleston, called the existing delivery system for mental health treatment “not very good.”
Therapy and medication are crucial for many people, he acknowledged, but diet, socialization, movement and mindfulness are also terribly important parts of the solution and are often neglected. The wellness mentors at Modern Minds are supposed to help patients integrate those other aspects of treatment into their daily lives.
“Everyone goes through times in their lives when they have big-time challenges,” Navarro said.
“I’ve had my moments,” he said, speaking of dealing with his personal mental health and wellness during the pandemic. “For me, being outside makes a huge difference.”
Navarro would not disclose the amount of money his foundation provided to launch Modern Minds, at 40 Calhoun St. near the South Carolina Aquarium. He acknowledged the practice would not be financially viable without this seed money, and he doesn’t foresee the business generating a profit without continued support. He would like the practice to eventually become self-sustaining.
The prices for the services Modern Minds offers are competitive because they have been subsidized by the foundation’s investment. The initial 90-minute intake visit costs $250. Follow-up sessions with therapists cost $150. The services offered by the wellness mentors, including access to online tools, are included in these prices.
According to an analysis by Northwestern Mutual, therapists in many cities typically charge between $75-$150 for a 45-minute session. Therapists in larger cities, such as New York, often command $200 or more for an appointment.
Modern Minds intends to assist patients by submitting claims to health insurance companies for reimbursement, which could help offset the cost of treatment for some people. The practice officially opened after Labor Day. To date, roughly 20 patients have enrolled.
Anne Marie Albano, executive director of Modern Minds and a psychologist at Columbia University in New York City, has spent her career studying anxiety and depression and figuring out effective ways to treat it.
Modern Minds is a new model, she said.
For example, she said, psychologists who practice in the community may see as many as 35 patients a week. The psychologists at Modern Minds will be limited to 20 patients to ensure that each one gets the attention he or she deserves. Along with these therapy sessions, the practice will emphasize the importance of movement, wellness and community engagement.
It’s one thing for a therapist to recommend that his or her patient attend a yoga class or try meditation. That happens often, Albano said. What makes Modern Minds different is that a wellness mentor will actually act as the patients’ guide, connecting the person to resources to achieve those goals.
All this is easier said than done during a pandemic. Most appointments at Modern Minds are being conducted virtually, although patients may request in-person appointments. Eventually, the practice will expand to offer group therapy sessions and may begin treating children and adolescents at some point.
For MUSC’s part, the start-up makes sense. Medical University Hospital operates 105 inpatient psychiatric beds on its main campus. Those beds are almost always full, said MUSC Health CEO Pat Cawley. Beyond that, another 20 people are typically waiting in the emergency department for a bed to open up at MUSC’s Institute of Psychiatry.
Despite the fact these psychiatric beds operate at full capacity, this service line does not make MUSC any money. Offering this type of intense mental health treatment is simply part of their mission, Cawley said.
Modern Minds offers MUSC practitioners a place to send patients who may not require such intensive treatment as the hospital’s inpatients.
“This is an attempt to offer something that we don’t have,” said Cawley, who called the practice “very innovative.”
It may also offer an environment to train future MUSC students, he said.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.