DAYTON — Patients under 18 years old in this rural community now have even more options for mental health care.
Blue Mountain Counseling in Dayton is providing a new service, telepsychiatry, which allows patients to video conference with a psychiatrist and receive prescriptions and additional counsel.
The agency’s first session using the new technology was Tuesday. Residents of Walla Walla, Tri-Cities, Prescott, and elsewhere can also use the service, said Dimita Warren, CEO of Blue Mountain Counseling.
This service is currently free for the patient, but this might change due to funding in the future, Warren said.
“Right now we will bill any insurance that they have, but because of the funding that we have, there won’t be any co-pays or anything that we charge to the client,” she said.
Telepsychiatry is offered in Columbia County already through the local hospital district, but this is the first service specifically for youth patients who are 8 years old and older. The service is also available to adults.
The reason for using video conferencing, as opposed to a hired staff member, is the cost, Warren said. Having one part-time psychiatrist for a rural area is not affordable, Warren said.
Blue Mountain Counseling received $200,000 from the Greater Columbia Affordable Community of Health for one year, which is covering the telepsychiatry service, she said.
“With the funding we received, we thought now is as good a time as any,” she said.
Therapists at BMC will talk with the remote psychiatrist about a client including what they have observed, things they have talked about with the client and goals the client wishes to achieve, she said.
“The patient will first meet with a regular therapist, who will do an assessment with them and may do some individual counseling,” she said. “Then if the individual wishes to partake of the telepsych services, then we will schedule that individual (in office).”
Sessions last around 45 minutes, and youth can have a parent present for the start of the session, Warren said.
One psychiatrist will be available one day a week. Based on the need, this could change, she said.
The psychiatrist, who lives in Clarkston, was chosen from the company BMC contracts with, Locum Tenens, because he is used to treating patients who live in rural areas, she said.
“Sometimes that’s a better fit than somebody that’s maybe never dealt with people from a rural community,” she said.
Columbia County Health System also offers telepsychiatry. The organization has two clinics, one in Dayton and one in Waitsburg.
Psychiatrists through that program are from the University of Washington and work alongside behavioral health specialists and primary care doctors to meet the needs of the patient’s overall health.
The clinic in Dayton will also soon be providing dental services for Medicaid patients.
“This concept of, ‘I go to the dentist office for mouth, and I go to my behavior health specialist for my depression, but then I go to my primary care doctor for something else’ ... The body is all interconnected. Bad oral care can lead to depression, bad oral care can lead to issues in diet,” Shane McGuire, CEO of the Columbia County Health System, said.
This is called a collaborative care model, he said.
“The way things used to be done is you when you went to see your primary care doctor, and if they determined you were depressed, they would refer you out to somebody,” he said. “That referral may be weeks out. Well depression is now. It’s not something you can wait weeks and weeks on.”
He said patients who had to wait on appointments would not often show up.
“In my opinion, we were really silly for taking the mouth and the brain out of the body a long time ago,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you take care of a whole person if you could?”
Telepsychiatry reduces the delays of patients receiving the prescribed medication they need for their mental health, Warren said.
“We wanted to make sure that if help was needed, they could get it immediately,” McGuire said.