Avera receives $7.8 million for eCare behavioral health services

Oct. 10, 2018

A $7.8 million donation to Avera Health will allow a behavioral health team to be available 24 hours a day to emergency rooms nationwide that are linked to Avera through its virtual medical center, Avera eCare.

It’s the largest donation to a single service line at Avera from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which has made several gifts to support virtual health services and behavioral health services.

“We recognize there’s a huge psychiatry shortage,” said Walter Panzier, a trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“It’s a multifaceted approach,” he said. “We see there’s a workforce shortage. We need involvement on the primary care side to address mental health issues and break stigma down because, really, mental health is no different than diagnosing high cholesterol or diabetes. You have to treat it medically, and there’s such a stigma even though it’s gotten better. This is going to help develop a 24-hour behavioral health care team to deliver timely, patient-centered, high-quality psychiatric services to people when they’re having a crisis.”

The three-year grant will allow Avera to hire enough psychiatrists, social workers and other support staff to ensure someone is available when a patient comes to an emergency department connected to eCare. These departments often are in communities that lack the resources to staff them around the clock for behavioral health patients.

“I don’t know where we’d be without the Helmsleys,” said Dr. Matt Stanley, a clinical vice president of Avera’s behavioral health service line.

“If you talk to law enforcement, communities, EMS, this is just a national crisis. They all feel overwhelmed and undermanned,” Stanley said. “We’re all trying to do the right thing and be compassionate, but it’s scary when you have patients with these issues and you feel untrained or unsure of what to do. We’re fortunate for them (the charitable trust) to look to us to help solve this problem.”

Once behavioral health staff have evaluated the patient through the eCare connection, a determination can be made whether hospitalization, transport or follow-up care is needed.

“They’re able to work in a higher level of collaboration with the physician on the ground to make decisions about the patient’s next level of care,” said Deanna Larson, Avera eCare CEO.

“Part of the goal is to make sure only those who need acute intervention of hospitalization are rightly identified,” Larson said. “If you are already agitated and held in an emergency department situation, that can escalate to the point you end up hospitalized, which is probably a spiral of events. Our goal is to make sure those interventions and assessments are done quickly.”

While Avera offers some behavioral health services through eCare, the grant will allow it to cover more needs.

A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that 65 percent of non-metropolitan counties lack a psychiatrist and 47 percent lack a psychologist.

“We have quite a few resources, but they’re all fully utilized, and we still have a great deal of shortage,” Stanley said. “We’re seeing a tremendous need for care all across the state. Our primary care physicians do a wonderful job being a front line and taking care of behavioral health needs, but, like any disease, some cases are more complex and some patients need a higher level of care, and that’s where you want specialists to step in.”

Downtime at the eCare hub will be scheduled like clinic hours, where the psychiatrists and their staff can see patients by appointment. That could include e-consults during school hours or in other settings beyond typical clinic appointments.

“It’s such an unmet need,” Larson said. “Once you get outside Sioux Falls, it’s a very unmet need not only in South Dakota but across the U.S.”

Avera likely will start with its 24-hour psychiatry services in rural South Dakota and the surrounding region, but ultimately the plan is to scale it out across seven states where eCare supports emergency departments. Services will be provided through high-resolution two-way audio and video and software data management platforms that interface with electronic medical records. There also will be mobile crisis response services available through portable devices.

Avera had added space to support the enhanced service line in an office at 2509 E. 54th St. N., near its original eCare hub.

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Avera receives $7.8 million for eCare behavioral health services

A $7.8 million donation to Avera Health will allow a behavioral health team to be available 24 hours a day to emergency rooms nationwide that are linked to Avera through its virtual medical center, Avera eCare.

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