Provider Spotlight: Journey Mental Health Center Makes Transition to Telehealth Services
Journey Mental Health Center is the largest behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment agency in Dane County, Wisconsin. Journey was founded in Madison in 1948 and today serves more than 10,000 consumers each year through 27 clinic and community-based programs.
According to Becky Eberhardt, Journey’s Information Management Specialist, Journey first became certified to offer telehealth services in 2014. At that time, Journey’s Emergency Services Unit and Outpatient Services programs were certified for telehealth. Though telehealth was not used much, the need for providing telehealth services grew when Journey began expanding services outside of Dane County. Journey became telehealth certified in Columbia County in 2017.
Use of telehealth was limited prior to COVID. Many of Journey’s prescribers were on site, and consumers, for the most part, could go to their program to be seen. However, the recent change in federal guidelines regarding the use of telehealth services during COVID-19 has helped Journey broaden access to phone and Internet-based treatment.
“Now, almost everyone has had to learn how to use Zoom,” explains Eberhardt, adding the agency has had a substantial increase in Zoom accounts for their staff. "It's quite amazing how a pandemic changes the way an organization does business," she adds. "The number of Journey-hosted Zoom meetings increased from just 14 in February 2020 to 644 in March."
In addition to prescribers using Zoom services, psychotherapists, case managers, and peer support specialists are providing a mixture of telephonic or Zoom support to their consumers. Case managers at Journey’s community programs will regularly call their consumers to check in to see how they are doing and find out if they need anything. “Overall staff have adapted well to the transition,” according to Eberhardt.
Journey is also making sure consumers are comfortable with using technology and supporting them in the process. “This is new for them and can be challenging and stressful,” reports Eberhardt. Journey had to first determine the technology needs of their consumers and if they have internet service. Those who don’t have these resources at home can come to a specified Journey location and use Zoom for their prescriber appointments.
In addition, Journey is developing a plan that involves having a staff person practice using telehealth technology with a consumer before their scheduled appointment. The goal is to have consumers feel comfortable using telehealth services.
To assess consumer response to telehealth services, Journey will soon be distributing a web-based survey. Consumers will get a link to a survey after each session. The results from the survey will assist in improving the quality of Journey’s telehealth services.
Face-to-face services continue for some clients who must be seen in person for either injections, medication compliance, or deliveries. “For these clients, case managers and nurses continue to go into the community with face masks, gloves, while also maintaining a distance,” explains Eberhardt.
Journey also provides interpreter services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and non-English speakers. Language interpreting services are provided both through Zoom and a phone service. Journey has contracted with interpreters willing to use Zoom for ASL, Spanish, French, and Wolof languages. For all other languages, Journey has a company that will participate using Zoom audio only.
At the organizational level, the transition to telehealth has required changes to instructions, forms, processes, workflows, and consents. “We have had several meetings just to keep people updated on instructions and revisions to forms,” says Eberhardt. Journey also created telehealth care tip sheets for their staff and began live telehealth support sessions via Zoom for staff to join in and ask questions.
Journey Mental Health Center will continue providing and expanding services using telehealth. These services include psychiatric evaluations, medication monitoring, psychotherapy, case management, assessments, and intakes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught Journey that you have to plan and be prepared for any disruption in service. Journey’s previous experience using telehealth helped prepare them for having to significantly alter the way they traditionally provided behavioral health services.