Community health clinics across the United States report a 43% drop in the number of client visits during the quarantine. However, Aroostook Mental Health Services, Inc. (AMHC) has ramped up the use of technology during the COVID-19 pandemic and increased the number of client visits by 20%.
In a recent article, the chief psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente stated that over 90% of mental health visits in the U.S. are now happening virtually, which is a change for many practices.
However, AMHC was already an early adopter of telehealth and they were able to quickly expand their existing practice. While continuing to offer in-clinic appointments, telepsychiatry offers mental health services directly to the client through HIPAA-compliant video conferencing or telephone calls.
AMHC recognized the potential of telepsychiatry to solve mental health challenges years ago and found it ideally suited to serve the people of Aroostook, Hancock, and Washington counties in Northern and Downeast Maine. Telepsychiatry helps solve a critical shortage of psychiatric providers, especially in rural areas. Half of the counties in the U.S. do not have even one psychiatrist and it is estimated that 111 million people live in a mental health shortage area. Using technology, a provider can see clients anywhere there is a viable internet connection.
AMHC partners with Iris Telehealth, a telepsychiatry group, to provide psychiatrists. This has allowed AMHC to provide medication management services for adults and children. “It’s been an honor to work alongside AMHC over the past 3 years,” said Dr. Tarik Shaheen, CEO at Iris Telehealth. “Their deep commitment to patient care and the ability to adapt quickly during COVID-19 sets a wonderful example for other community health organizations in the northeast and the rest of the U.S.”
Recent events have encouraged many clients who previously came to AMHC in-person to use telehealth services. The clinics provide psychiatric evaluations, teletherapy—individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy—client education, and medication management, directly to the client who remains at home.
“AMHC appreciates its partnership with Iris Telehealth to provide psychiatrists for our clients who require medication management services,” said Ellen Bemis, AMHC CEO. “It can be a challenge to recruit psychiatrists to rural areas such as ours. By offering the service remotely we help ensure our community members receive the support they need. Iris Telehealth has been an important part of our ability to adapt quickly to the changes that occurred with the pandemic.”
Many clients, particularly the elderly and those at high-risk, appreciate the convenience of seeing their provider from the comfort of home. Providers report there are fewer cancellations now that travel is not required.
In a recent survey, 45% of respondents said events related to the coronavirus have affected their mental health. In response to the need for increased services, AMHC added 80 new Zoom accounts to boost their virtual service capacity and provide same-day access when needed.
A report from Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, suggests that stress from COVID-19 may cause increased ‘diseases of despair’, including suicides and addiction. AMHC believes these issues are treatable and telepsychiatry can connect people with the care they need.
Celebrating more than 55 years, AMHC is a nonprofit organization supporting nearly 6,000 clients annually. The agency has 26 service sites and 325 employees located across Aroostook, Washington, and Hancock counties providing mental health, substance use, crisis, sexual assault services, and brain injury services (Aroostook County). For more information, connect with AMHC at www.amhc.org.
About Iris Telehealth
Iris Telehealth’s mission is to help patients, providers, and healthcare organizations achieve their goals through clinically sound and financially sustainable psychiatry programs. With our clinical grounding and emphasis on human relationships, we identify best-fit providers for each unique organization and ensure a long-term commitment to meeting our partner’s needs, allowing them to provide the highest quality care to their patients and community. For more information, please visit iristelehealth.com.