Murphy, N.C. – Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital (EWCH) is the first North Carolina facility to implement extended services of the North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program (NC-STeP). Regardless of their ability to pay, EWCH patients now have access to critical follow-up behavioral health care coordination after they are discharged from receiving telepsychiatric and teletherapy services in the emergency department.
East Carolina University (ECU) is home to NC-STeP, which is led by nationally-recognized telepsychiatry leader Dr. Sy Saeed. Since 2015, ECU and EWCH have been partners in offering telepsychiatry services to patients in the western North Carolina region. NC-STeP was recently awarded a $1.2 million federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant to expand telehealth-based mental health services to rural North Carolina emergency departments, where patients who present with acute mental health crises often experience barriers to community resources and ongoing care coordination.
“ECU recognized the vital need for this program in our region and EWCH is thrilled to pilot it for our community,” said EWCH Director of Operations and Associate Chief Nursing Officer Teresa Bowleg, MSN, RN. “Because most people who visit any emergency department do so in a time of crisis, it can be a stressful time for our patients and their families. This service is especially helpful for those patients who suffer from anxiety, depression and situational stressors.”
This expansion project has allowed NC-STeP to provide telebehavioral counseling and care coordination in at least five rural hospital sites, including EWCH. Follow-up care coordination after discharge is critical to ensure that patients have access to additional treatment resources.
“NC-STeP is excited for EWCH to be our first site in the state of North Carolina to offer these new services for patients in need of mental health care,” said Dr. Kalyan Srinivas Muppavarapu, clinical assistant professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Brody School of Medicine at ECU. “EWCH has been an outstanding partner as NC-STeP grows to provide mental health services to rural and underserved areas across the state. EWCH is always open and willing to explore potential solutions that will provide additional mental health resources to the people of western North Carolina. Our team looks forward to working with EWCH to bring these much-needed resources to the region.”