Providing Behavioral Health Care Via Telehealth for At-Risk Children

Posted by on May 28, 2021 in News | 0 comments

Hathaway-Sycamores and Iris Telehealth: Partnering to Help the Mental Health of At-Risk Children in Los Angeles and Beyond

Born into the home of an abusive and alcoholic father, ten-year-old Miguel has not had an easy childhood. With his father now in jail, Miguel’s mother Anna and Miguel live humbly in a rented room in South Los Angeles. It has been a struggle for Anna to support Miguel and herself, despite working several jobs. These challenges have impacted Miguel at school, in relationships and especially his own mental health.

Over a year ago Miguel was referred to Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services. Miguel was provided a therapist and was eventually referred to a pediatric psychiatrist, who could help support all his needs.

Dr. Maria Lopez Rosario, telepsychiatry provider at Hathaway-Sycamores

Dr. Maria Lopez Rosario, telepsychiatry provider at Hathaway-Sycamores.

With a national shortage of pediatric psychiatrists in the United States, Hathaway-Sycamores has used the services of Iris Telehealth – a leading telepsychiatry provider that works with Community Mental Health Centers, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and hospitals and health systems throughout the U.S. – to contract with top pediatric psychiatrists who can provide care to patients like Miguel via telehealth. Through Iris Telehealth, Hathaway-Sycamores gained access to high-quality providers from across the country to help support our Los Angeles-based patient population. For Anna, these resources have been critical. As a Spanish-only speaker, often she has either had to rely on translators or her son, Miguel, to speak with healthcare professionals. Dr. Maria Lopez Rosario, the Iris Telehealth pediatric psychiatrist overseeing Miguel’s care, speaks fluent Spanish and has put both Miguel and his mother Anna at ease.

In March 2020 when the ‘stay at home’ order was issued in California in response to COVID-19, the Hathaway-Sycamores office where Miguel came for his monthly appointments, closed for in-person visits. Our team had to quickly adapt and change how we deliver many services. Like many other healthcare organizations, Hathaway-Sycamores worked to provide services via telehealth whenever possible. For psychiatric services at Hathaway-Sycamores, this pivot has been extremely successful – in part because the department already had experience with remote care thanks to their four-year partnership with Iris Telehealth. Hathaway-Sycamores quickly provided Anna and Miguel with a tablet computer and technical training to allow them to connect to their appointments from home.

As a highly qualified pediatric psychiatrist who has worked with patients both in-person and virtually, Dr. Lopez Rosario sees telehealth as integral to the future of effective mental health services. “Telehealth has become essential in the provision of mental health services,” said Dr. Lopez Rosario. “Severe, chronic mental illness as well as newly developed stress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic can be addressed and treated using a telehealth platform while limiting the exposure risk inherent in an in-person clinic visit. In our line of work, a safe virtual space has been the bridge that has made quality medical care accessible to the underserved communities.” 

Hathaway-Sycamores President and CEO Debra Manners credits the flexibility of Dr. Lopez Rosario and the support of Iris Telehealth for helping the agency successfully transition to seeing Miguel and other children and families from their homes. “Iris Telehealth excels at customer service and has always been very collaborative with us and sensitive to our culture, values and needs. They are always ready to help find solutions to any challenges we have faced,” said Manners.

Telehealth appointments from home have helped Miguel and his mother Anna, as they are no longer taking lengthy two-hour bus rides for in-office appointments. They have not missed a telehealth appointment since the beginning of the pandemic, and across the board cancelations and no-show rates are down from 25% to approximately 15%.

According to Dr. Thomas Milam, Chief Medical Officer at Iris Telehealth, this is the exact benefit the organization hopes to see in all their partner organizations. “Our goal is all about increasing access for patients across the country,” said Dr. Milam. “We’ve seen firsthand how the utilization of telepsychiatry can decrease no-show rates and patient wait times. We are honored to be partners with an exceptional healthcare organization like Hathaway-Sycamores that seeks to support their community through high-quality psychiatric care, a mission which Iris Telehealth shares.”

Even after it is safe to reopen offices more fully, Hathaway-Sycamores Director of Medication Support, Chad Scott, believes that there will always be a component of telehealth: “We have found that there is a portion of our population that we can safely treat from home via their laptops or tablets and that will really benefit from continued telehealth from home care.”

The last year has been filled with so many challenges – including financial hardships, school closures, social isolation, fear, and uncertainty – but thanks to Dr. Lopez Rosario, Iris Telehealth and the Hathaway-Sycamores team, Miguel has made tremendous strides. Anna and Miguel are both grateful to have the support of their Hathaway-Sycamores team as they continue his healing journey.

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