St. Augustine mental health center opens to help fill a service gap

People experiencing a mental health crisis can bypass the emergency room at Flagler Hospital and instead opt for the new CAIR Center.

The Crisis Assessment Intervention and Referral Center offers mental and behavioral health services to both youth and adults in a more peaceful setting, Flagler Health+ officials said.

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The goals of the CAIR Center include reducing “unnecessary Baker Act admissions” and helping people avoid the criminal justice system, as well as reducing recurring hospital visits “while providing those in mental health crisis a supportive and approachable environment to receive support,” according to a news release from Flagler Health+.

The center has been operating for several weeks, but Flagler Health+ officials celebrated the opening with a ribbon cutting on Thursday morning at the center at 300 Health Park Blvd., Suite 1008. Officials invited media and others to take a tour.

At the ribbon-cutting, Flagler Health+ CEO Carlton DeVooght said the center helps fill a gap in coverage in the community. He said that many people don’t get the care they need because of a lack of mental and behavioral health services in Florida.

“In working with our partners like (EPIC Behavioral Healthcare and St. Augustine Youth Services), we have seen that there is a need to provide a less traumatic entry point for those who need mental health services,” DeVooght said.

An open house for the general public is scheduled from 10 am to noon on June 19. People can learn more about the center at or by calling 904-819-5204.

In addition to providing crisis assessment and interventions, the center provides referrals and help establishing long-term connections with providers, according to Flagler Health+. The center also helps connect people with other resources they might need.

“Often, the mental health struggle is tied to other needs in the household ― food insecurity, lack of stable housing, difficulties obtaining, and more,” according to the release prescription. “The CAIR Center then utilizes Care Connect+, a program established by Flagler Health+, to connect patients to other critical resources. Care Connect then helps clients navigate the process to clarify questions, remove barriers, and connect the patient to social health services, as needed .”

People do not need to have insurance to get help from the CAIR Center, said Valerie Duquette, who is in charge of the Flagler Health+ Behavioral Health Department.

“That is not a factor for us,” she said. “We are not concerned about a payer source. We’re here to provide a service to the community.”

Flagler Health+ Chief Operating Officer Vincent Johnson said about 1 in 5 Americans will have a diagnosable mental health condition this year, a statistic provided by the nonprofit Mental Health America. He called the center “a huge boon” for the community.

“It’s an opportunity to take care of people who otherwise would not be taken care of,” he said. “And there’s never been more of a time and more of a need for mental health care to be at the forefront and the center of everything that we do for our community.”

The state of Florida’s budget includes about $8 million for the CAIR Center, DeVooght said.

Valerie Duquette, who leads the behavioral health department at Flagler Health+, stands inside the hospital's Crisis Assessment Intervention and Referral Center on Thursday morning.


Video and art posted around the center encourage relaxation with beach scenes, butterflies and other serene images.

Murals by the local business Heartspace Art are posted in the center, one called “Look Within,” which encourages people to “breathe,” and another named “The Journey Home,” which features butterflies flying near a seated woman.

“(Heartspace Art) pretty much came up with the concept based on what we were asking for, that we wanted the space to be soothing and welcoming and a place where people could feel comfortable,” Duquette said.

People who go to the ER for a mental health concern can be met with more stress.

“You have people moving in and out,” Duquette said. “Various levels of trauma. Various levels of injury and illness. A lot of commotion. A lot of noise. A lot of stimulation. And that can be overwhelming for folks.”

She added, “This place allows people who are not in need of those hospitalization-type services to be able to come and have a different environment. It’s more calm. It’s relaxed. It’s inviting. There isn’t all of that additional stimulation. “

The center has separate areas for youth and adults. The staff includes three therapists and three intake workers, as well staff to help with reception and care coordination, Duquette said. The center plans to add psychiatrists.

The center is for outpatient services, so there are no beds. If people need hospitalization, the CAIR Center team works with the emergency room to transfer adults there, Duquette said. If minors need hospitalization or more help than can be provided by the CAIR Center, the team works to coordinate their care with St. Augustine Youth Services or to transfer them to a Jacksonville facility.

People are also using the CAIR Center for regular counseling sessions, Duquette said.

“We’re here right now Monday through Friday 8 am to 6 pm,” Duquette said. “You can walk in. You can call us. You can find information on our website about us and how to reach us. You can show up. … We want you to come, and we’re going to be expanding that hopefully by the end of the year to at least to weekends and possibly into our 24/7 operation.”

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