NAMI BI to expand telemedicine services
It has been a long and somewhat twisty road to bring mental health awareness and care to Block Island. What began as the Wellness Coalition has now become the Block Island affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Health. The Wellness group has been absorbed into NAMI-BI, which has in turn begun to expand its scope of services to island residents.
Jim Hinthorn is the President and Kristin Baumann is the Vice Chair of NAMI BI. According to Hinthorn and Baumann, the Alliance has three main goals: to bring mental health services to the island; to educate residents about mental health issues; and to provide support to those families dealing with mental health issues.
Up to now, the group has been focusing on mental health for adults. But soon, NAMI-BI will be branching out to bring services to island residents under the age of 18, first by providing telemedicine services to those 18 years old and younger. The telemedicine program for adults has been available for several years now, but today it operates out of the Medical Center. The program is facilitated by Tracy Fredericks, who said the program is set to begin in a couple of months.
“We’re evolving,” said Hinthorn. “We’re happy to now focus on kids as an expansion of our mission.”
“We’re going to fulfill our mission in a bigger way,” added Baumann. It was the Wellness Coalition that did, in fact focus on younger people, but when the group lost its funding it was natural for NAMI-BI to expand its scope.
“This was a natural fit for us,” said Baumann.
The group works with several island institutions: the Block Island School, the Medical Center, the Island Free Library. One of the goals of NAMI-BI has been to get these agencies “integrated,” said Hinthorn. The school now has a clinical psychologist on-site, which is something NAMI-BI pushed for.
According to information provided by Hinthorn and Baumann, the federal 2018 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Law has provided $3.7 billion to battle the nationwide opioid crisis. This includes $1.9 billion in grant monies; $495 million for treatment in rural and underserved areas (which Block Island would qualify for); $350 million for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as for state prescription drug monitoring programs; and another $100 million for children impacted by parental substance abuse.
On the state level, Gov. Gina Raimondo has convened two working groups, one focused on adults and the other on youth, that will propose “strategies for improving the delivery of behavioral health delivery in Rhode Island” including improving on the fact that there are “too few state programs for youth — especially for prevention” and the “lack of school-based behavioral health resources for teachers, students and families.”
The youth-based telemedicine program is aimed at filling in those gaps on Block Island, according to Hinthorn and Baumann.
The major island-based stakeholders are the school, the Medical Center, and the Police Department.
Off-island stakeholders are the Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University, and Butler and Bradley Hospitals. Fredericks does an initial consultation, and then will assign a caseworker to the individual from Brown, if they are an adult, or at Bradley, if the person is under 18. Fredericks is often present during the phone call to help the person seeking assistance.
“We’re really setting a path for rural communities,” said Hinthorn of the youth telemedicine program.
“And most importantly, patients are getting help,” added Baumann.
Baumann said the telemedicine program itself is due to hours of work with Tracey Guthrie, MD, the Residency Training Director for the Brown University General Psychiatry Residency Program. “Every year we’ve been asking, ‘How do we expand it to the kids?’” What followed were many meetings, a lot of legwork, and what Baumann called “a gazillion things that went into this behind the scenes.”
Because of this proposed expansion, Hinthorn and Baumann said they expect to go into this year’s budget process with a request for more town funds.
The town supports the program with a $7,000 allocation for Fredericks, but with added responsibilities those hours are expected to increase, according to Baumann and Hinthorn.
They also said they know they have to step up their fundraising activities, which also help fund the NAMI local chapter.
“We give ourselves a D-minus in fundraising,” said Hinthorn, but he said that grade will improve in the new year.
The telemedicine hotline for adults is (207) 229-6349.