Pictured (L to R): John Mengenhausen, Horizon CEO, Scott Weatherill, Horizon CIO, Tracy Pardy, Horizon Health Foundation Executive Director, Julie Gross, USDA State Director of Rural Development, and Patrick Hemen, USDA General Field Representative.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development announced Horizon Health Care as a recipient of grant funding through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program.
As a USDA program recipient, Horizon Health Care received approximately $224,000 for improving and expanding telemedicine services to provide behavioral health and acute care services to rural patients in our state.
To receive these grants, the USDA requires organizations to match the donated funds. Our Foundation collaborated with South Dakota telecommunication companies to support Horizon’s proposed Emergent Medical, BehavioRal, and Acute CarE Telehealth Project (EMBRACE).
These companies made investments in communities and patient care with gifts totaling over $105,000. The following SD companies pledged their gifts:
- Alliance Communications
- Golden West Telecommunications
- West River Cooperative
- Midstate Communications
- Interstate Telecommunications Coop.
- SDN Communications
“Horizon’s work in rural South Dakota impresses us,” says SDN Communications CEO Mark Shlanta. “They’ve been a long-time business partner with SDN and several of our member companies serving rural South Dakota. When Horizon told us how they wanted to integrate more telemedicine equipment into their care plan for rural residents, we told them that, as a business partner, we would help them achieve their goals.”
With the investments from SD telecommunications companies coupled with the USDA grant, our EMBRACE Telehealth Project total cost is over $300,000.
Introducing the EMBRACE Telehealth Project
Our EMBRACE Telehealth Project is an innovative approach to providing healthcare access to rural populations by expanding telemedicine and distance learning capabilities. Ultimately, the goal of EMBRACE is to address the needs of rural South Dakotans struggling with behavioral health disorders.
By leveraging telehealth technologies and our existing video technology infrastructure, there are two challenges EMBRACE seeks to overcome.
- Challenge One: Integrating primary and behavioral healthcare.
- Challenge Two: Improving the availability of acute care services for patients.
Challenge One: Primary and Behavioral Healthcare Integration
Statewide access to primary mental healthcare is a common concern for patients in rural communities. That’s mainly because primary care providers aren’t always located near where patients live.
Besides barriers to access, an underlying stigma of seeing a counselor or therapist creates yet another burden for seeking mental health treatment.
Moreover, variations to treatment make the road to recovery even harder. That’s because historically behavioral health services and substance abuse treatment have been delivered by specialty care providers — separate from primary care.
Challenge Two: Acute Care Services Availability
For rural patients, there is reduced availability of acute care services due to an increase in emergency room visits.
Limited healthcare workforce capacity has led to many rural, uninsured, or underinsured residents to rely on local hospital emergency room departments as a source of acute care needs.
Lowering the use of emergency department visits will improve access to health care for all members of the community.
Primary Care Treatment for Mental Health
Identifying and treating behavioral health illnesses for depression, anxiety, and mild to moderate substance use is proven to be an important role for primary care.
“Having immediate access to a behavioral health specialist has been a great benefit for our patients,” says Horizon Health Care provider Melissa Davis of Aurora County Community Health Center. “Providing support instantaneously for all patients and working to reduce the stigma surrounding behavioral health are the primary reasons why Horizon Health Care applied for grant funds. Our patients have benefitted by making weight loss goals, discussing their mental health concerns and discussing barriers to care, among other things. We are fortunate to have leading-edge technology that puts our patients’ needs first.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, from 2011-2015, only 40% of South Dakota adolescents aged 12-17 received treatment for depression. Additionally, 43% of adults with a major depressive episode were treated.
For both types of patients, their treatment was delivered by rural primary care only 60% of the time according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Thankfully, the EMBRACE Telehealth Project is building up awareness in support of strengthening behavioral health for South Dakotans.
Telehealth Effective in Rural Communities
Telehealth has been shown to be an effective tool for delivering high-quality behavioral health and acute care services. Roughly 74% of patients prefer easy access to healthcare services over in-person interactions with providers according to Horizon’s patient data from 2017.
The EMBRACE Telehealth Project will:
- Expand services for those located a great distance from hospitals and clinics
- Increase after-care appointments since patients won’t be required to travel long distances for short visits
- Reduce non-urgent ER visits while eliminating transportation expenses for regular checkups
- Provide convenience for patients in rural and remote areas with quicker access to specialists
Based on needs of each community served, Horizon Health Care will be investing telehealth services to the following high-need cities in South Dakota:
Telemedicine services bring specialty healthcare directly to you to decrease expenses and stress by reducing travel time. Thanks to the EMBRACE Telehealth Program, our patients will have the opportunity to take control of mental health while maintaining the privacy of behavioral health treatment.
If you are uninsured or with limited insurance, learn more about our Sliding Fee Program to reduce the cost of treatment.