Avera Health has received a generous grant of $7.8 million from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to build a 24-hour telemedicine behavioral health team as part of Avera eCARE®.

This team will give patients access to timely, patient-centered, cost-effective, high quality behavioral health services via telemedicine.

“At the Helmsley Charitable Trust, we recognize the shortage of mental health professionals that exists in rural areas. We selected this project for grant funding because it is a truly innovative and groundbreaking way to extend behavioral health care to where it’s needed most,” said Walter Panzirer, a Trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“We are extremely grateful to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for their ongoing partnership and support of innovative projects to reduce the disparities of health care access in rural areas. We are excited to see where this work will lead as we continue to deliver health care of the future today,” said Deanna Larson, CEO of Avera eCARE. The Helmsley Charitable Trust has provided major funding for other eCARE service lines as well as the eHelm virtual hub in Sioux Falls.

This telemedicine service will be provided out of the eHelm virtual hub in Sioux Falls.

“Across the U.S., there is a growing shortage of psychiatric workforce. At the same time, we see the need for behavioral health care increasing,” Larson said. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that a majority of non-metropolitan counties – 65 percent – do not have a psychiatrist, and 47 percent – or almost half of non-metropolitan counties – do not have a psychologist.

With an initial focus on services for people in crisis, Avera eCARE will provide virtual behavioral health assessments as well as treatment for patients in local emergency departments and inpatient psychiatric hospitals.

“Many of our inpatient psychiatric units are challenged with staffing, particularly overnight and on weekends. Avera eCARE will provide a psychiatric team to respond to off-hours needs from the hospital. This supports recruitment and retention of community psychiatrists and helps to preserve access to essential inpatient care for those in crisis,” Larson said.

In time, Avera eCARE will also provide mobile support to first responders encountering individuals in crisis.

“When someone in a rural area experiences a mental health crisis, often the only option for those around them is to call emergency services in the form of law enforcement, fire and rescue or ambulance. For first responders and local ERs, the need for additional mental health knowledge is great, but the available resources may be few,” Larson said.

Avera is a 60-year regional leader in behavioral health services, and has a full continuum of care that includes inpatient care, outpatient psychiatric care and counseling for all ages, addiction services, a 24-hour assessment center and more.

Through Avera eCARE, Avera has already been providing behavioral health assessments to local ERs. And, through a partnership with Indian Health Service, Avera has been reaching out to reservation communities with outpatient behavioral health services via telemedicine.

“This grant will allow us to build upon all of this, establishing a future opportunity to begin treatment at the time of crisis – perhaps when a patient is still at home. We believe this will help reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and inpatient stays, and ensure patients are getting the right level of mental health services earlier in their journey,” said Matthew Stanley, DO, Clinical Vice President of Avera’s Behavioral Health Service Line.

The virtual team will also support behavioral health units, hospitals and outpatient primary care centers. They can provide assistance to available community services and resources to ensure that a patient has access to follow-up support.

The three-year grant period extends from now until September 2021.

“Through Avera eCARE, telemedicine technology has proven its effectiveness in many other ways, including urgent care, emergency, pharmacy, critical care, specialty visits and more,” Larson said.

Services will be provided through proven telehealth technology, including high-resolution two-way audio and video and software data management platforms that interface with hospitals’ electronic medical records.

Mobile crisis response services will be available through portable devices that can be taken to a crisis situation and connect a virtual crisis response team to the patient immediately.

Prior to launching these services, Avera eCARE will hire and train registered nurses, masters’ prepared social workers, psychiatric advanced practice providers and psychiatrists to be part of this 24/7 team.

“People in urban and rural areas alike need health services that address needs of the whole person. The Helmsley Charitable Trust, in partnership with Avera, looks forward to the ways in which we can improve quality of life in rural areas by extending behavioral health services via telemedicine,” Panzirer said.

About Avera eCARE
Avera eCARE, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., is the most robust telemedicine network in the world offering comprehensive health care services 24/7 via high-definition, interactive video and sophisticated computer monitoring equipment. Avera eCARE is part of Avera Health, an integrated health system which serves more than 300 locations and 100 communities in a five-state region. We carry on the health care legacy of the Benedictine and Presentation Sisters, delivering care in an environment guided by our values of compassion, hospitality and stewardship.

About the Helmsley Charitable Trust
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $2.2 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program funds innovative projects that use information technologies to connect rural patients to emergency medical care, bring the latest medical therapies to patients in remote areas, and provide state-of-the-art training for rural hospitals and EMS personnel. To date, this program has awarded more than $377 million to organizations and initiatives in the upper Midwest states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana. For more information, visit www.helmsleytrust.org.

For our media partners who are unable to attend in person, we have video footage of Avera eCARE Behavioral Health and eCARE Emergency available for download at the following link: https://vimeo.com/293943840
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