2017-07-05 / Health

Hospital’s telemedicine program boosts school services

By Gloria Zola-Mulloy

In a day and age when everything from family substance abuse to social media bullying threatens the well being of a community’s young people, psychiatric services are in high demand and providers are few and far between.

Fortunately, the days when a child needs to leave school and travel an hour in each direction to get psychiatric mental health services are gone. Now children can get the help they need in school with a new mental health program through Margaretville Hospital that will have a cutting edge telepsychiatry component.

According to Art Martello, who is on the Margaretville Hospital Board, this program will enhance mental health services for those in need in rural areas, and eliminate long trips and expenses in order to obtain this care.

Roxbury Central School will be the first in Delaware County to benefit from the program, expected to be up and running when school opens in the fall, with Margaretville Central School poised to follow. Andes, Delhi, and Downsville are expected to join the program in the next school year.

Kenneth Oclatis, PhD, program administrator for Telepsychiatry and Special Projects for the Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley, which operates at Margaretville Hospital, told the News that therapeutic services to improve students’ mental health and well being will be done in person, on site, in the schools with a licensed clinical social worker. The new telepsychiatry computer units will be an additional component in the mental health program, as needed.

Dr. Oclatis adds that the telepsychiatry component, if indicated, will include an initial evaluation followed by medically based care, such as a prescribed antidepressant, and will be provided remotely by a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist who is a medical doctor.

The psychiatrist will be in her Westchester Medical Center Health office in Valhalla. Oclatis believes live video psychiatric sessions, combined with in-person, individual and family therapy, along with referrals to other community services, if needed, can be an ideal combination to provide timely, meaningful help in regions such as ours that have a shortage of qualified mental health professionals.

When a student is identified as needing mental health services for problems such as anxiety, depression, adjustment to stressful experiences or attention deficit disorder, using the telepsychiatry unit, families will be encouraged to be present or nearby during sessions. In addition, the licensed clinical social worker will always sit in on telepsychiatry sessions.

Superintendent of Roxbury Central School, Tom O’Brien, tells us that the school’s new telepsychiatry ability will enable students to receive help in school so that they won’t miss out on academics. The school’s new telepsychiatry unit can be used for all client-psychiatrist conversations, from assessment to ongoing treatment. O’Brien believes that families will tend to stick with the program. Children in need of mental health services were often on waiting lists or sent to Kingston, Walton, Utica and even as far as Binghamton with a high rate of missed appointments or dropped out of treatment altogether. Now on site services brought directly to students in rural areas, with parent approval and support, will bridge the gap for specialized services. O’Brien stresses that because confidentiality is a priority, telepsychiatry services are conducted in real time on a dedicated, secure line to assure privacy.

Health Alliance grant writer Susan Linn says that funding for the mental health services program comes to Margaretville Hospital through the state and federal Vital Access Provider Program with a separate Appalachian Regional Commission grant to be used to expand the program to Andes, Delhi and Downsville.

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