Heather Rambeau, emergency room nurse manager at Coryell Memorial Hospital in Gatesville, checks out the new “tele-psych” system that enables patients with mental health problems to have a one-on-one, real-time teleconference with a board-certified psychiatrist 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

GATESVILLE — A patient having a mental health crisis in the Coryell Memorial Hospital emergency room can now be seen by a board-certified psychiatrist 24/7, thanks to a new two-way video system called “tele-psych.”

The JSA Health Telepsychiatry system, which was installed at the hospital last week, is a monitor and camera with Internet link mounted on a cart that can be rolled to a patient’s bedside for a real-time consultation with one of 20 participating psychiatrists who have Coryell hospital credentials, said Kathy Lee, the hospital’s special projects director.

“We now have the capability to have a psychiatrist on call 24/7,” Lee said.

The tele-psych program is sponsored by Providence Hospital in Waco to provide mental health care to rural areas, Lee said. Hospitals in Hamilton and Clifton also will take part in the program. The system will initially be used for indigent mental health patients who would otherwise have to be transferred to Killeen or Austin for psychiatric care, taken to the county jail or released.

“This will save bed space, time and money,” Lee said. “It will reduce the need to transport the patient, who is already agitated.”

When the emergency room staff identifies a patient who needs a psychiatrist, a request for consultation is faxed to JSA and an appointment is set with a psychiatrist.

“The patient sees the doctor and the doctor sees the patient” through the video system, she said. A nurse stays in the room with the patient during the conference.

After the session, the psychiatrist faxes an assessment to the attending physician recommending a course of action, which could include prescribing medication, transferring the patient to higher-level care or sending the patient home.

The program is funded through a federal Medicaid 1115 Waiver grant. Providence Hospital provides the tele-psych equipment and psychiatrist time, and Coryell Memorial staff

will evaluate and report on the long-term value of the program.

“Our goal is to expand the program beyond the ER to long-term and in-patient care,” Lee said.

“Some elderly patients could benefit from mental health assessment as part of their care.”

The tele-psych system is part of an ongoing effort under the Medicaid 1115 Waiver grant to reduce the number of indigent mental health patients who often end up in jail for lack of adequate care.

Under the Mental Health Deputies Program, Coryell County will hire four deputies trained to handle people with mental health issues.

The deputies will work with many of the clients of attorney Allen Place, whose office is contracted with the county to represent indigent defendants with mental health issues, also part of the federal grant.

The grant also funds an eight-bed mental health crisis center in Gatesville that serves five to seven clients a day, said Eldon Tietje, executive director of Central Counties Services, the regional agency that administers the grant.

The Gatesville center will expand its capacity to 16 beds within the month, Tietje said, which will help accommodate the work of the mental health deputies.

Contact Tim Orwig at torwig@kdhnews.com

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