Wellview meets pandemic-driven demand for mental health care

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / James Story is co-founder and CEO of Wellview, which offers employer clients concierge-style access to holistic health care.

James Story had something very specific in mind when he helped launch Wellview in 2013.

"I was constantly frustrated with the efficacy of [health care] programs coming out of the marketplace," says Story, who had an insurance career in employee benefits before he co-founded the venture with physicians Chris Kuzniak of Atlanta and Cole Barfield of Nashville. "The three of us shared a common belief in the need to flip traditional health care on its head."

Wellview offers clients "concierge-style access to holistic care" for issues including diabetes, weight loss and stress management. With about 140 employer clients nationwide, Wellview has used a data-driven approach to help reduce "hard-dollar" health care costs at those companies by 11%, Story says.

"We use data to better understand who people are – get to the 'why' of what's wrong versus simply understanding people as a disease state," says Story, the company's CEO, who relocated to the Chattanooga area from Nashville three years ago. "Our process is to work from the inside out – talk to people about the things that matter to them."

Wellview's mental health team has spent the last 21 months talking to a great many clients. According to statistics provided by the company, the pandemic has driven a staggering increase in demand.

Client demand for mental health support in 2020 rose by 185 percent compared to 2019 overall. Demand among women shot up by 152% in 2020, but that was less than half the 347% increase for men.

As for 2021, Coley Williams, Wellview's director of mental health, says she and her staff of 16 therapists conducted in just nine months as many sessions as they did in all of 2020.

"The impact of isolation and experiencing of grief have been the two main themes," says Williams, who earned a master's degree in marriage/family therapy at Loyola Marymount University and is in her third year at Wellview.

Williams points out that pandemic-induced grief can be "very complex" compared to way that emotion is typically thought of.

"We usually think of grief in terms of having lost someone," she says. "Many of us have experienced those losses [during the pandemic] but, over time, there's also the loss of a sense of identity.

"We work mostly through video chat, and we often see moms [participating] in their closets and dads in parked cars. Those are the only places they can go for a privacy during a day when they're also having to be parents, employees, teachers and spouses.

"Those are clear illustrations," she says. "If you're talking loss of identity, there it is in a nutshell."

Williams says Wellview "almost doubled" its team of therapists as the pandemic-driven demand grew. She adds that she's talked repeatedly to her staff about practicing what they preach.

"We talk to clients about the oxygen-mask metaphor – you're told on a plane that if the oxygen masks deploy, you have to take care of yourself before you can help someone else," she says. "That's true for us, too.


* Employees: A fully remote workforce of 70* Online: wellviewhealth.com* Launched: 2013

"And even though we work remotely, we've managed to build a real sense of community. Mental health workers are front line health care workers, and we're going to get burned out if we don't really, intentionally, take very good care of ourselves," she says, adding that her mental health team has access to mental health providers.

Williams says that years from now, when she recalls having worked through the pandemic, she'll remember the courage of the people who sought her team's help.

"We've seen a huge increase in engagement not only because people need [mental health help] more than ever, but also because they're willing to seek it more than ever," Williams says.