Access to Mental Health Care is Needed Statewide

All but 13 of Minnesota’s 87 counties have been officially designated by the federal government as “mental health professional shortage areas,” based on the number of psychiatrists per 30,000 residents. Across the United States, many communities – especially those in rural areas – have limited access to mental health care services.

Minnesota’s hospitals work statewide to find alternative ways to help Minnesotans access mental health services.

Mental health care is health care, and every Minnesotan deserves access to safe, effective and affordable mental health care.


Mental health care through telemedicine

Dr. David Baldes, a psychiatrist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota, knew his rural patients had limited access to specialty mental health care access was further compromised when a major local mental health care center experienced significant provider turnover and could no longer serve all its patients. With no alternative resources in the area, some patients felt they had nowhere to turn.

Baldes believed he could help people living on the Iron Range get access to mental health care through telemental health. Telemental health uses video and audio conferencing technology to virtually provide mental health care to patients.

“I felt strongly motivated to be involved, being a person from Two Harbors and having a sense of obligation to the region,” said Baldes.

Today, satellite clinics in Hibbing and Virginia participate in the telemental health program. Baldes dedicates every Friday afternoon to his Iron Range patients, and his Friday schedule is always full.

How telemental health works

Baldes first meets with potential telemental health patients in person, allowing them to get to know each other face-to-face. For subsequent visits, patients receive virtual care at their primary care clinic. A camera and television are located in both the clinic and at the hospital. Conversations take place over a secure phone line while both Baldes and the patient are able to see each other by video.

Telemental health has helped patients receive the specialty care they need to maintain a healthy life. It has also allowed patients to spend less time commuting to and from Duluth to receive in-person mental health care.

“Because Hibbing and Virginia are about 70 minutes away from Duluth, transportation can be a big barrier to care, particularly for people with a serious mental illness who don’t usually have access to transportation,” said Baldes.

Mental health specialists available 24/7

Another innovative telemental health program helps patients seeking mental health services at Essentia Health-Fosston Clinic access crisis care at all hours of the day.

“Taking advantage of strengths in nearby communities is something rural Minnesota needs to do more of,” said Maureen Ideker, registered nurse and director of telehealth at Essentia Health.

In this case, telemental health enables every on-call mental health professional to carry a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, which uses a secure network to connect to a hospital. The providers find a private setting where they instantly and securely connect with a patient via a mobile device, such as an iPad or tablet. This allows patients who are experiencing an immediate crisis to meet face-to-face with a mental health professional via a video conference, any time of day.

“It’s a very unique program and it’s working,” said Ideker. “The technology is available and consumers expect us to use it.”

Telemental health services have enhanced the quality of care for all of the Fosston Clinic’s mental health care patients, as they now have help available whenever needed.

Mental health services needed throughout Minnesota

One in five adults has experienced a mental illness, and one in 25 adults lives with a serious mental illness. A mental illness that impairs a person’s ability to hold a job can cause financial and transportation challenges and make travel to out-of-town appointments difficult. Through telemental health, these barriers can be overcome.

Telemental health has also improved mental health care in Minnesota’s rural areas because patients have access to mental health services that are close and convenient — improving the likelihood patients will continue their care. In both urban and rural areas, telemental health allows patients to access to mental health services at a time and place that’s most convenient for them, which means patients can receive the care they need when they need it.

Providing access to mental health services for all Minnesotans makes our communities healthier. Telemental health is making a difference; however, it is not available to patients statewide.

As Minnesota looks for more ways to improve mental health care, providing telemental health services to all Minnesotans who need them could help ensure that people with mental illnesses across the state – especially in rural areas – have access to mental health care.

It’s time for a statewide solution to mental health care. Join thousands of Minnesotans in pledging your support.