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Helmsley Charitable Trust Grants Avera eCARE $7.8 Million for Mental Health Service Development

Jackie Hendry

A recent study shows 65% of the country’s non-metropolitan counties do not have a psychiatrist, and nearly half don’t have a psychologist. As mental health needs continue to rise, telemedicine may offer a solution for rural areas lacking access to those services. On Wednesday, the Helmsley Charitable Trust announced a grant to establish a first-of-its-kind behavioral health service through Avera’s eCARE center in Sioux Falls. 

The nearly $8 million grant will establish a 24-7 behavioral health service to patients throughout South Dakota and the upper Midwest. Subscribing hospitals can use video-chat technology to assess a patient’s needs. The service will eventually expand to law enforcement and EMS professionals.

Walter Panzirer is a Trustee with the Helmsley Charitable Trust. He says this level of round-the-clock access to behavioral health has yet to exist in rural areas.

“I believe and the Helmsley Charitable Trust believes your care should be equal to the urban counterparts no matter where you choose to call home," says Panzirer.

Increasing access to mental health assessments ensures patients receive the most appropriate level of care for their specific needs. Deanna Larson is CEO of Avera eCARE. She says telemedicine allows for a wide variety of services to small-town residents—from psychiatrists to social workers. 

Credit Jackie Hendry
The behavioral health telemedicine workspaces will look much like existing spaces in Avera eCARE: monitors with HD video chat capability and access to patient records.

“And in many cases we’re finding, especially around behavioral health, telemedicine is very adaptable to coming to full treatment and patients being very responsive to treatment and actually having very good outcomes," explains Larson. 

The Helmsley Trust is also giving more than 600 thousand dollars to establish a telehealth certificate program for care providers. Avera Behavioral Health Vice President Matthew Stanley says that will help establish a standard of care for this new approach to mental health. He says that program might include anything from additional ethics considerations to the number of training hours logged with the camera system.

“Those are the kinds of expectations we set when a physician comes to practice in a hospital or joins a health system," says Stanley. "We also wanna make sure we’re applying the same kind of rigorous expectation when we’re looking at telemedicine.”

The initial behavioral health telemedicine services are expected to be available by March of 2019.