South Carolina Department of Mental Health
2414 Bull Street, Columbia, SC 29202
News Release


July 7, 2010
Contact:   DMH Office of Public Affairs
                  Phone: (803) 898-8581

Duke Endowment Renews Grant to S.C. Department of Mental Health
Innovative Mental Health Services Program to Expand

Columbia, SC – The Duke Endowment continues to support telemedicine in South Carolina, renewing its grant to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s (SCDMH) Telepsychiatry Program for an additional two years.  This $2.5 million commitment, which will provide $1.5 million in the first year and $1 million in the second year, will allow the program to add telepsychiatric consultation services in hospital emergency departments in South Carolina.

The Telepsychiatry Program, a collaboration of the Duke Endowment, the SCDMH, the South Carolina Hospital Association, statewide hospital emergency rooms, and the SC Department of Health and Human Services, currently serves 16 urban and rural hospitals in 13 South Carolina counties.  As of July 7, 2010, the SCDMH has conducted 2,908 consultations. 

"We were excited to be the first hospital to join the SCDMH and The Duke Endowment in this initiative,” said Palmetto Health Baptist Easley Medical Director Scott Parker, MD.  “Since we began using telepsychiatry, we have seen our consultation waiting period go from days per patient to hours.”

“Our emergency medicine physicians are very pleased with this project and the level of support they have received from psychiatric consultation,” Dr. Parker continued, “It’s important that mental health patients receive the right treatment in a timely manner, and this program is helping make that happen."

The renewal will enable the Telepsychiatry Program to expand in the Midlands and Savannah River Basin areas of the state, including Richland, Abbeville, and Hampton counties.

Launched in 2007, the grant aims to make psychiatric consultation available in all of South Carolina’s emergency departments at all times, increasing the quality and timeliness of triage, assessment, and initial treatment of patients. 

SCDMH State Director John H. Magill said, "Our capacity to deliver services in emergency departments in this innovative manner result in more timely patient assessments, quicker application of treatment, increased quality of care, reduced lengths of stay, more appropriate joint discharge planning, and may lead to potential savings for participating hospitals."

Using the telepsychiatry program, a doctor from the SCDMH can consult quickly with the emergency departments, which is especially beneficial in rural and remote areas where those in need of help may not have immediate access to healthcare staff or facilities.

Interactive video and voice equipment allows the psychiatrist and patient to speak freely and see each other via video screens.  Hospital physicians have access to four on-call SCDMH psychiatrists, located around the state, 16 hours a day, seven days a week. 

"We are often asked if the technology has a detrimental effect on the consultation,” said Brenda Ratliff, MD, Telepsychiatry Program medical director.  “After completing nearly 2700 consultations over the last fourteen months, we can say that, for essentially all patients, the technology quickly fades into the background as the patient and consulting psychiatrist are able to focus on the consultation."

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s mission is to support the recovery of people with mental illnesses, giving priority to adults with serious and persistent mental illness and to children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances.  The Agency serves approximately 102,000 citizens, including 33,000 children and adolescents, and provides outpatient services through a network of seventeen community mental health centers and numerous clinics.  It also operates four psychiatric hospitals, one community nursing care center, and three veterans’ nursing homes.