Baptist Health Corbin and Mountain Comprehensive Health, Whitesburg, get USDA grants to treat addiction via telemedicine

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $720,000 grant to Baptist Health Foundation Corbin Inc. and Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. in Whitesburg for telemedicine programs that focus on mental health and addiction treatment.

These grants are part of the $1.4 million that the USDA announced in June for five Appalachian projects in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky to fight opioid abuse in the high-poverty “StrikeForce” areas and southeastern Kentucky’s “Promise Zone,” both Obama administration initiatives that steer federal money to areas with persistent economic hardships.

Baptist Health Corbin was awarded $377,121 to help connect clinical specialists through telemedicine to 10 school-based health centers, two primary-care sites in Williamsburg and Barbourville, and Grace Community Health Center.

“Partnering with Grace Community Health Center, telemedicine will offer a unique opportunity to maximize resources and reach isolated communities with healthcare services that are not otherwise available,” Baptist Health Corbin President Larry Gray said in a news release. “While this project cannot address the economic barrier of poverty directly, a telemedicine program can ease the financial burden of accessing care.”

Baptist Health Corbin has one of the largest behavioral health facilities in Eastern Kentucky, The Briscoe Clinic, which provides services to about 750 people a month and has a 200-person waiting list, according to Chris Holcomb, executive director of behavioral health at Baptist Health Corbin. Holcomb said the hospital has enough providers, but not enough office space.

“By utilizing telemedicine technology, we can meet the needs of more people and reduce the waiting list without the financial burden of expanding space,” he said, adding that the technology will also decrease transportation barriers for their patients as many of them travel over one hour to the clinic to receive services.

Baptist Health Corbin expects to start providing behavioral health and addiction services through telemedicine in the summer of 2017.

“Our telemedicine launch will not only treat the opioid epidemic, but will have a generalist approach treating a wide array of behavioral health issues,” Holcomb said. “We plan to individualize care plans and provide medication assisted treatment for those suffering from addiction. We will also provide assessments for medical detoxification and possibly offer intensive outpatient groups for those with chemical dependency issues.”

The telemedicine program at the 10 school clinics will offer continuing education and training for teachers around suicide prevention and drug awareness and will also provide acute behavioral health and addiction screening and assessment for the students.

“By providing in-school assessments, it should help to reduce academic absences and reduce ED visits,” he said.

Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. was awarded $343,600 for its program to expand its telemedicine services to residents who face economic and transportation challenges.

MCHC will initially only offer primary-care services through its telemedicine program, but will expand its services to include behavioral health and addiction services after it has finished building its behavioral-health program, Chris Bates, corporate compliance officer and grant writer for MCHC, said in a telephone interview.

Bates couldn’t promise when the telemedicine program would start offering behavioral health and addicition services, but said he expected it would be within one to two years.

MCHC has only one behavioral-health provider, but will add one more next month, and is looking to add four more. Bates noted that this staff is funded through a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. 

MCHC will initially offer telemedicine in its 13 school-based clinics and eventually will expand the program to its eight facilities. Bates noted that some of their most rural patients travel hours to the clinics for care and having access to telemedicine will help assure they have access to all of the services they need.

“The demand for behavioral health is unreal,” he said. “And the relationship between mental health and physical health is intertwined, so we need the ability to address both,” Bates said.

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