Mental Health Spotlight: Telehealth Unlocks Treatment For MN Inmates

June 18, 2018
  by Blog Team
Mental Health

One in five American adults has a mental health condition. According to Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing mental illness, more than 40 million individuals are affected by this critical health issue.

Many organizations use Vidyo solutions to address mental health-related challenges. For instance, the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center, winner of the Leaders Innovating Telehealth (LIT) Award at the 2017 Vidyo Healthcare Summit, has partnered with Charleston County EMS, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance to offer on-site emergency-response psychiatric services in real time — particularly in the region’s remote areas.

Another notable story comes from the Carlton County Jail in Minnesota. Although the Carlton County Mental Health Center has been using VidyoConnect for a telepsychiatry service with inmates for the past four years, this service was only available on weekdays twice a month. The Center also offers a mobile crisis team to meet with inmates via Vidyo during weekdays on an as-needed basis. The challenge was conducting assessments during the overnight hours and on weekends. Deputies weren’t comfortable assessing inmates who were experiencing mental health issues after hours.

“Our deputies were just not sure how closely some of the inmates needed to be watched, so they wanted to get a mental health professional’s opinion during those off hours,” said Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Public Health & Human Services.

Nine years ago the Minnesota Department of Human Services bought a Vidyo on-premise system that they offer free of charge to other statewide organizations that desperately need mental health services. A contract that Carlton County Jail had with a local mental health center allowed a psychiatrist to see inmates on-site. However, a lack of availability of psychiatrists forced the Center to discontinue this service. Another option considered was to schedule an outpatient appointment perhaps many weeks later and have the inmate escorted by two deputies, which was time-consuming and an expensive use of jail resources.

Because there were so many undiagnosed and untreated inmates and because the mental health center was suffering financially from too many no-shows and cancellations from patients for its psychiatry staff, hurting the Center financially. Lee’s organization took advantage of the center’s unused capacity and implemented an off-hours telehealth program for inmates using Vidyo.

“The only option left to accommodate the off-hours services was with Vidyo. It’s been in operation for four months now and our jail administrator loves it,” Lee said.

Today, the mental health center conducts telepsychiatry crisis appointments 24/7 via Vidyo for suicide evaluations of the inmates. An inmate on suicide watch is brought to a private area equipped with Vidyo to speak to a remote, on-call therapist. The therapist can then assess whether or not the inmate needs to be brought to a hospital or can determine some other form of treatment.

“Without Vidyo, it would take two deputies to escort an inmate to the mental health center if an appointment was even available,” Lee noted. “Plus, that center would be at least a half-hour drive away. So the Vidyo solution cut through many obstacles.”

Using Vidyo has allowed the psychiatrists’ time to be used more efficiently, and the program has evolved to pre-schedule more appointments, greatly increasing the number of completed assessments.

Lee was asked how he measures success for the program. “The jail staff now have a sense of feeling better that they’ve gone through the inmate’s potential risk factors with a mental health professional who has guided them on the necessary next steps to be taken,” Lee noted. “So the jail administrators feel that the inmates are safer and are just more confident in the plan moving forward. Now there’s a real comfort level both with the jail staff and the mental health center. The center is used to using Vidyo, so we’re just finding new ways to use it effectively.”

Lee’s organization is planning a new jail facility near the existing jail. He noted that the more mental health services they can provide and the more they can improve patient assessments, the fewer inappropriate admissions to the county jail they’ll have.

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