Thrive by IU Health

March 18, 2021

Grant expands IU Health virtual behavioral health services to rural counties

Grant expands IU Health virtual behavioral health services to rural counties

A highly regarded IU Health virtual behavioral health program has received $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand to four underserved Indiana counties. One IU Health clinician says the timing couldn’t be better.

While addictions and other behavioral health challenges had reached critical levels before COVID-19, Anne Gilbert, MD said we can expect even greater need for behavioral health and addiction services in the months ahead.

“What we know about pandemics and disasters is that they cause mental health pandemics,” said Gilbert, medical director of IU Health Behavioral Health Virtual Services.

The newly funded Virtual Emergency Behavioral Healthcare in Rural Indiana project allows Gilbert’s program to serve caregivers and patients in Franklin, Henry, Ripley and Rush counties. The services will be offered at Henry Community Health in New Castle, Margaret Mary Health in Batesville and Rush Memorial Hospital in Rushville.

In such rural areas, hospital emergency departments often serve as the primary point of contact for people with mental health needs, especially in times of crisis. However, few such hospitals have mental health professionals available around the clock, if at all. IU Health’s virtual behavioral health services allow emergency department personnel to connect people needing services with a care team operating from a virtual hub in downtown Indianapolis. Using video chat technology, the virtual care team can speak with patients while they’re still in the emergency room.

“Through this program, we are able to meet people wherever they’re at,” said Peer Recovery Coach Spencer Medcalf. A key component of the program is the contingent of coaches like Medcalf, who have experienced their own behavioral health crises.

“I’ve been in their shoes,” Medcalf said. “So, I can tell them to just hang on and go to the next step and have a little faith in the process and a little faith in me.”

In conjunction with an emergency consultation, care providers assess a patient’s condition and help to connect him or her with a safety plan, and follow-up treatment and care.

Launched in 2019, the program previously focused on the 14 counties served by IU Health, where it has provided some 4,300 behavioral health consults and 2,200 substance use disorder consults.

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