Mental health organization receives telehealth funds

FCC grant provides almost $400K for hardware, software and more training.
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In 2019, Pine Rest had 3,076 telehealth visits across all its outpatient clinics. By 2021, that number reached more than 290,000 telehealth visits. Courtesy iStock

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services is upgrading its telehealth communication services.

That ongoing effort was bolstered financially when it received $398,825 from the Federal Communications Commission’s second round of COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding.

The psychiatric hospital and behavioral health provider offers a variety of services, programs and health care facilities for inpatient and outpatient services.

The organization will use the funds to purchase more telehealth equipment, including tablets and software, to complement the equipment it is using to support teletherapy and other behavioral health services.

Jean Holthaus, telehealth clinic manager, said Pine Rest wants to ensure everyone within the organization has the same equipment so clinicians can see the entire group and the person joining virtually can see the entire group.

Pine Rest began offering telehealth services three years before the start of the pandemic. The organization had established a telehealth clinic with up to six trained clinicians whose focus was to provide virtual services.

“We could see a growing trend in the nation, actually, as a whole, that people were wanting that as an option for how they receive their services,” Holthaus said. “We felt like it was important to meet people where they wanted to receive help instead of requiring them to receive help on our terms.”

When the pandemic began, Pine Rest started offering most of its services online, including some hospital-based services for individuals with behavioral health symptoms who cannot be adequately treated in a traditional outpatient setting but are not severe enough to require 24/7 monitoring for safety.

Holthaus said that program would traditionally require clients to stay on campus six hours per day and then go home and stay overnight. During the heart of the pandemic, however, that program shifted to virtual. 

“When the stay-at-home order came through in March (2020), Pine Rest already had the telehealth infrastructure in place with nearly 150 clinicians trained on the technology,” she said. “Our staff really stepped up and within three days an additional 150 clinicians were trained. Because of the increased ability to do virtual visits, our providers were able to help even more people. Before March 2020, Pine Rest clinicians were conducting approximately 100 telehealth appointments per week. By May, they were performing nearly 6,000 appointments per week.”

In 2019, Pine Rest had 3,076 telehealth visits across all its outpatient clinics. In 2020 and 2021, Pine Rest had 241,093 and 290,431 telehealth visits, respectively, across all its outpatient clinics.

From January to mid-March of this year, telehealth visits numbered 53,242.

Pine Rest’s inpatient programs, in-person hospital and residential services continued operating throughout the pandemic.

Holthaus said she believes clients will continue to request telehealth services even when the pandemic ends.

“There is absolutely no evidence it is going away,” she said of the virtual visits. “When we do surveys of our clients, the vast majority would still prefer to receive their services via teletherapy. Obviously, there are always some that want to come in person. Over 75% of our visits are still virtual and there’s no evidence that that’s going to change. The demand for it seems to remain high and it doesn’t appear to be COVID-related anymore. People have discovered they can do it. They’ve discovered it’s more convenient and their preference would be to have that if it’s a possibility for them.”

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