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CHI Health Receives Funding for Tele-Behavioral Health Program to Serve Rural Midwest Communities


Omaha, Neb. (March 16, 2021) – CommonSpirit Health’s CHI Health-Midwest Division, the largest provider of inpatient psychiatric services in the region, is building on their experience, launching a new program to expand critical access to behavioral health services for patients in rural Nebraska and Southwest Iowa. The program seeks to enable patients in crisis to receive the assessment and care they need within the comfort and convenience of their own communities whenever possible.

CHI has received a four-year $1,200,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to provide funding for the “Behavioral Health Evaluation and Transfer Service” (BHETS) program. With this grant funding the program will be implemented across five rural critical access hospitals in year one, adding 12 additional health clinics beginning in year two.

BHETS has been designed to address the need for expanded behavioral health services in rural communities where there is a scarcity of providers and emergency departments have limited expertise and experience in treating mental illness. On-site doctors and nurses will work alongside highly-trained remotely-based practitioners through an expanded tele-behavioral health model to improve 24/7 patient access. Virtual consultations and psychiatric assessments with remote specialists will improve outcomes for emergency department patients presenting with behavioral health issues.

Currently, patients arriving in crisis to rural hospital and clinics where behavioral health specialists are not available on-site are transported to larger, and often distant, hospitals for assessment. Under the new model evaluation will take place locally, reducing the need for unnecessary transfers. With the understanding that some cases may still require the higher-level psychiatric services provided at larger hospitals, the program includes the development of a dedicated transfer center service to more effectively transport patients in crisis.

In year one, BHETS will support CHI Health Missouri Valley and Mercy Corning hospitals in Iowa and St. Mary’s, Schuyler and Plainview hospitals in Nebraska. In 2019, these five hospitals handled 10,280 emergency department visits, 4-10% of which were for behavioral health issues. BHETS will serve between 300-500 patients at these facilities in its first year. Beginning in the second year, as the program expands to include 12 rural health clinics, usage is expected to increase by 5% annually for the next four years.

Currently, CHI Health is in the process of recruiting for nurse practitioners and licensed independent mental health therapists to serve as remote behavioral care specialists. For more information regarding the Behavioral Health Evaluation and Transfer Service program, contact Kristen Blum, Director of Virtual Care Operation for CHI Health at 402.717.2348.

This program is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $1.2 million with 40% funded by HRSA/HHS and $1.8 million and 60% funded by nongovernment source(s). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA/HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.

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Publish Date: 

Monday, March 15, 2021

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