SALT LAKE CITY — Even before COVID-19 turned the functional world upside down, Utah was among the worst ranked states in the nation when it comes to overall mental health management, combining a high prevalence of mental health issues among its populace with low access to care.

But one Utah company is working to disrupt the legacy model of in-person, clinic-based mental health services with a telehealth model aiming to reduce transactional stresses and provide easy access to professional care for individuals, couples and families dealing with mental health challenges.

On Tuesday, telehealth innovators Tava Health announced a $3 million seed round of funding led by Cottonwood Heights-based venture investment firm Peterson Ventures.

Founded in August 2019, Tava specializes in matching its roster of mental health professionals, who are employees, with client needs via an easy digital interface that matches client needs to provider specialities and mediates appointments that are held via a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Tava co-founder and CEO Dallen Allred, who previously founded health care analytics firm Artemis Health, said even as the incident rate of mental health issues among the general population continues to grow, costs for care have only increased and little has changed in the way those services have been provided amid increasing need.

“Mental health issues are among the most pressing problems of our generation, affecting nearly all of us to some degree.” Allred said in a statement. “The unfortunate reality is that meeting regularly with a therapist is just as expensive and difficult today as it was decades ago.

“By partnering with employers and removing barriers to care through technology, we’re paving the way for their people to get excellent professional care with unprecedented ease. The modern workforce is beginning to expect a quality mental health benefit as a hallmark of any great employer, and we’re proud to be on the forefront of making this possible.”

Allred said those barriers include overcoming a long-running stigma associated with mental health care and solving the unwieldy and cumbersome process of finding and connecting with the right provider.

“The in-person system is not only stigmatized but is also hard to use,” Allred said. “Not only do twice as many people with access to telehealth mental health services engage with providers, but they are also 30 percent more likely to actually keep their appointments.

“And telehealth helps patients avoid the challenges of figuring out work conflicts, child care issues and transportation challenges.”

Creating easy and accessible access to care was on the mind of Chatbooks co-founder and CEO Nate Quigley when his company started to offer Tava’s services to its 200-plus employees back in January.

Quigley said Tava was the right solution for Chatbooks, a Provo-based online company that specializes in photo books, because of its combination of a high level of care with an engagement process that was as painless as possible for his staff.

“What resonated with us was their focus on taking away the friction that stands between someone who needs mental health services and getting those services,” Quigley said. “They have a simple onboarding process and a great system for matching needs, whether it’s counseling, therapy or medication management with exactly the right provider.”

Quigley said the Tava program, which Chatbooks is offering as an addition to its regular employee health care benefits, has been very popular with staffers. Since adoption earlier this year, over half of his employees have signed up for Tava and 25% to 30% have initiated care. And he said the demographic of employees who have signed up for the service is wide ranging, with the option popular across age groups and gender categories.

Quigley said he has used the services himself and spoke with his employees about the experience in an effort to encourage making use of the care as well as doing his part to normalize the pursuit of mental health care and maintenance.

“I think it’s extremely important to emphasize the benefit of preventive care in this area,” Quigley said. “We don’t wait until our teeth are rotting to go to the dentist. ... I look forward to the day, and I think it’s coming, when thinking about and working on getting help with mental health is as regular as getting your teeth cleaned and just one of the regular things we do to avoid bigger problems down the road.”

Allred said the new capital will help Tava continue to build its market, which is currently predominantly based in Utah, and expand its roster of providers to around 100 by the end of the year. He noted Tava is focused on recruiting health care professionals across a range of specialties, only hires those with at least five years of experience and has a current provider roster that includes those with masters and doctorate-levels of education in their respective areas.

Allred said interest in Tava’s telehealth model has exploded under the circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the company is building its client list at twice the rate it was previous to the global public health crisis.

Peterson Ventures partner Randall Lloyd said that Tava is filling a service need that is making companies that use it more attractive to both current and prospective employees.

“Even prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, nine out of 10 employees wished their employers would do more to support their mental health, recognizing that it leads to greater work productivity and higher job satisfaction,” Lloyd said in a statement. “These trends are only accelerating with millennial and Gen Z employees, and are unfortunately made more acute by the unique health crisis we face today.

“Robust mental health assistance will be a critical differentiator for modern employers who want to attract, retain, and get the most out of their employees.”