Telehealth reduces windshield time and improves counselor access

Jim Kinyon, executive director of Catholic Social Services and members of his staff test the new telehealth system. (Courtesy photo)

By Mary Garrigan 
Catholic Social Services

There are 22 counties in western South Dakota and 21 of them don’t have enough mental health providers to meet the needs of their residents.

Thanks to a new telehealth initiative from Catholic Social Services, access to a licensed, professional counselor may soon be only a computer screen away in those counties.

“We know that thousands of South Dakotans who live in remote, rural areas of the diocese lack access to mental healthcare services. The miles are long and the providers are few,” said Cathy Larsen, director of counseling at CSS. “Now, using a confidential online telehealth platform, those folks will be able to access a mental health therapist without driving hundreds of miles to do so.”

Telehealth technology can provide outpatient therapy and other behavioral health services delivered electronically by a counselor in Rapid City to a client who is accessing the appointment via computer, cell phone or other mobile device at a remote location. Telehealth is an innovative way to help solve the problem of limited access to mental health care that exists in western South Dakota, Larsen said.

Two at-risk populations who stand to benefit from telehealth services are middle-age white males living in rural regions and young Native Americans. In South Dakota, these groups are among the high risk populations for suicide and have experienced record numbers of losses to suicide in the past three years, according to the S.D. Department of Health’s 2017 Suicide Surveillance Survey.

“This initiative will allow us to more effectively reach out to those groups using telecommunications technology and help two of the most underserved areas in our state: Native American reservations and rural ranching communities,” said Jim Kinyon, executive director of CSS.

In the western half of the state, only Pennington County, where CSS’s main Rapid City office is located, has sufficient mental health professionals to meet demand for services. CSS also staffs satellite offices part-time in Sturgis and Spearfish, and in the more remote communities of Pine Ridge, Porcupine and Eagle Butte. On the Cheyenne River Reservation, where a CSS counselor works two days per week, the ratio is 1 mental health providers for every 2,840 residents.

“While Catholic Social Services would love to extend face-to-face services everywhere, the reality is that given many of the remote regions of our diocese this is not feasible. However, through telehealth, we reduce the windshield time and travel expenses and this improves access for those needing services,” Kinyon said.

Telehealth counseling costs are being supported by a two-year, $50,000 grant from Catholic Extension. This strategic initiative funding is designed to improve health ministry in the Diocese of Rapid City and other mission dioceses in the U.S. CSS is working with numerous parishes across the diocese that will serve as locations for anyone who wants to access telehealth services from the agency but may lack the technology or high-quality internet connection in their home that it requires.

To learn more about telehealth services or to schedule a counseling appointment, contact CSS at 605-348-6086.