Mental Health Cooperative (MHC) serves poverty-level individuals with mental health issues in 45 locations across middle and eastern Tennessee. The non-profit organization prides itself on providing rapid access to care through in-person services.
So when a pandemic shutdown appeared likely, MHC’s staff worried about how they would continue to serve their clients.
MHC clients typically are eligible for Tennessee’s Medicaid program, called TennCare. TennCare is MHC’s principal insurance payor.
MHC provides care primarily through treatment teams. Teams include a nurse, a supervisor, a psychiatric provider, and Care Managers.
One responsibility of the Care Manager is to assess a client’s environment and tackle problems someone may have with housing, finances, health, transportation, job or school, and eligibility benefits.
Care managers typically do this assessment in-person at a client’s home, “whether that’s an apartment, an underpass, a shelter, a home, or elsewhere,” said Michael Kirshner, Vice President of Business Development for MHC.
“We found when we work on environmental needs, our clients don’t have as many psychiatric crises,” he said. “It helps them function better and more successfully in their community. We support them where they live.”
Treatment teams meet five days a week, allowing them to respond immediately when a client has an issue – a child acts out at school, an adult behaves inappropriately, or a person suffers a medication side effect.
MHC also provides emergency psychiatric services in Nashville. It has a year-old Crisis Treatment Center that offers inpatient intervention and stabilization care, as well as emergency assessments. In addition, it is a referral resource for emergency room teams dealing with patients suffering from mental health crises.
As the majority of its care involved in-person contact, MHC had to pivot with the pandemic.
“Fortunately, TennCare authorized the use of telemedicine during the pandemic,” Kirshner said. “Most MHC clients have a cell phone, which has allowed care managers to stay in contact with them.”
The treatment team meetings shifted to daily videoconferences and allowed the team to continue to respond rapidly to patient concerns. problems.
And the emergency team shifted to using videoconferencing to assess patients having mental health crises – instead of having to do initial assessments in-person.
Where service must continue to be delivered in-person, Kirshner said the organization is doing its best with extra cleaning, appropriate protection, and keeping distances where possible.
Last fall MHC became an ImageQuest client. We overhauled MHC’s network to provide faster speeds and eliminate performance issues. We also installed a new VPN and wireless access points, and we support MHC’s in-house IT staff.
Kirshner said remote access in the past was “a constant struggle, depending on what part of town you were in and what device you were using.”
ImageQuest’s improvements made MHC’s sudden shift to telemedicine easier, said Brian L. Shaw, interim Chief Information Officer for MHC.
“Without ImageQuest and the improvements they’ve made since last fall,” said Shaw, “we would not be able to work as remotely as we all are right now.”