Wednesday, April 21, 2010

State Expands Mental Healthcare

Front line care providers in rural Alaska can now access remote mental healthcare from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) on an as-needed basis without entering into a long term formal agreement. API is part of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Behavioral Health, and provides a telebehavioral health clinic primarily serving the larger healthcare centers in the state.

Alaskans need for mental health services in remote communities is very clear. The suicide rate for rural Alaska teens is nine times the national average. The Alaska Native adult death rate from suicide is four times greater than the national average and from alcohol the rate is nine times greater.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within HHS awarded API a $221,000 grant to open a “walk-in” type open access clinic, where services are accessible using video conferencing. Primary care providers in remote communities can now request a same day video conferencing appointment for their patients. Also, providers are able to consult on patient cases with behavioral health professionals who treat both mental health and substance use issues.

This funding will deliver this service to more than 200 small healthcare sites in Alaska. These sites have the equipment to connect to API, but not enough patient demand to justify the cost of a long term contract such as those that API maintains with regional hub communities.

“Nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, and other frontline primary healthcare providers are the first contact for people who need behavioral health treatment,” said API CEO, Ron Adler. “By providing behavioral healthcare before patients needs become so dire that they must come to urban centers, we are providing better care more quickly without the trauma and cost of leaving home for treatment.”

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