SC Tele-Psych Program: Meeting Mental Health Patients Where They Are

This past year the South Carolina general assembly passed the SC Telemedicine Act and included funding in the budget for the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance (SCTA) to expand services throughout the state.


Telehealth has increased in popularity and necessity in recent years as a way to improve access to primary care and specialists. This past year, in recognition of the positive outcomes seen from telehealth, the South Carolina general assembly passed the SC Telemedicine Act and included funding in the budget for the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance (SCTA) to expand services throughout the state.

Telepsychiatry – mental health services delivered through videoconferencing – is a specialty of particular interest because of the unique services and shortages in that field. Even as the practice gains acceptance, it is still on the wish list of the hospitals that need it most because the upfront costs of the telehealth equipment are too burdensome to bear.

The SCTA, Department of Mental Health (DMH), and Palmetto Care Connections (PCC) have teamed up to secure funding for small and rural hospitals to acquire or replace telehealth equipment, and for some, even fund a full-time psychiatrist to improve access to mental healthcare for everyone in South Carolina.

Research from the University of South Carolina and the DMH shows that the telepsychiatry program has reduced admission rates for mental health patients by 34%, reduced length of stay by 53%, and decreased the overall medical cost for treating mental health patients by $3,320 per episode of care. The dramatic improvements are related to more efficient treatment of psychiatric patients, allowing them to get the care they need and be sent home instead of being admitted to the hospital for observation.

Currently, 12 South Carolina facilities are participating and are eligible for replacement equipment in the program, subsidized or fully-funded by the telepsych program:

  • Baptist Easley Hospital
  • Carolinas Hospital System – Marion
  • Fairfield Memorial Hospital
  • GHS Laurens County Memorial Hospital
  • Hampton Regional Medical Center
  • McLeod Health Clarendon
  • McLeod Health Dillon
  • Springs Memorial Hospital
  • Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital
  • Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital
  • Union Medical Center
  • Williamsburg Regional Hospital

Another eight facilities are eligible for funds to subsidize or purchase new equipment, as well as pay for a full-time psychiatrist:

  • Allendale County Hospital
  • Cannon Memorial Hospital
  • East Cooper Medical Center
  • Edgefield County Hospital
  • Greer Memorial Hospital
  • KershawHealth
  • Lake City Community Hospital
  • Newberry County Memorial Hospital

“Our stakeholders are increasingly taking notice of service efficacy, the use of telemedicine consults and namely, giving patients the convenience of staying in their own communities to receive care,” states a letter from Kathy Schwarting and James McElligott, MD – co-chairs of SCTA – to partners, members and affiliates of SCTA.

Over the past month, the CEOs of eligible existing and new hospital locations have been contacted by SCTA regarding the equipment request process. Hospitals opting to participate will work with SCTA, PCC, and DMH to implement the telepsychiatry program in their community. Facilities are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the funding available through this program to improve the mental health services throughout the state.

For more information about the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, Palmetto Care Connections or the equipment request process, please visit www.sctelehealth.org or www.palmettocareconnections.org.