- Avera Health is using a grant of almost $8 million to expand its telehealth platform to support a 24-hour telemental health service.
Announced on World Mental Health Day, the Sioux Falls, S.D.-based health system is getting $7.8 million from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to develop the behavioral health service on its nationally recognized Avera eCARE telemedicine platform, which serves residents in several states and the Indian Health Service.
“Many of our inpatient psychiatric units are challenged with staffing, particularly overnight and on weekends,” Avera eCare CEO Deanna Larson said in a press release. ”Avera eCARE will provide a psychiatric team to respond to off-hours needs from the hospital. This supports recruitment and retention of community psychiatrists and helps to preserve access to essential inpatient care for those in crisis.”
“At the Helmsley Charitable Trust, we recognize the shortage of mental health professionals that exists in rural areas,” added Walter Panzirer, a Trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “We selected this project for grant funding because it is a truly innovative and groundbreaking way to extend behavioral health care to where it’s needed most.”
Citing a 2018 American Journal of Preventive Medicine study that finds 65 percent of the nation’s non-metropolitan counties don’t have a psychiatrist and 47 percent don’t have a psychologist, Larson said the new connected care platform will focus initially on providing virtual care for patients in emergency departments and inpatient psychiatric hospitals.
The platform will eventually expand to help first responders, offering mobile health services through portable devices to police officers, paramedics and others dispatched to treat people wherever they need help.
“When someone in a rural area experiences a mental health crisis, often the only option for those around them is to call emergency services in the form of law enforcement, fire and rescue or ambulance,” Larson said. “For first responders and local ERs, the need for additional mental health knowledge is great, but the available resources may be few.”
“This grant will allow us to build upon all of this, establishing a future opportunity to begin treatment at the time of crisis – perhaps when a patient is still at home,” added Matthew Stanley, DO, Clinical Vice President of Avera’s Behavioral Health Service Line. “We believe this will help reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and inpatient stays, and ensure patients are getting the right level of mental health services earlier in their journey.”
Avera Health is one of the nation’s largest health systems, serving some 13 percent of the nation’s critical access hospitals, with an extensive array of telehealth and telemedicine services under the eCARE platform. The health system also helped the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) create a multinational telemedicine platform for deployment in disaster areas and combat zones around the world.
“Through Avera eCARE, telemedicine technology has proven its effectiveness in many other ways, including urgent care, emergency, pharmacy, critical care, specialty visits and more,” Larson said.