South Carolina Department of Mental Health

DMH Honors The Duke Endowment
at Meeting of Governing Body

July 11, 2014, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (DMH) Commission meeting opened with a ceremony honoring The Duke Endowment for its longstanding support of the DMH Telepsychiatry Program.  To meet the critical shortage of psychiatrists in South Carolina’s underserved areas and help hospital emergency department (ED) staff provide appropriate treatment to persons in a behavioral crisis, the DMH Telepsychiatry Program utilizes real-time, state-of-the-art video-and-voice technology to connect DMH psychiatrists with ED doctors and patients in hospital EDs throughout South Carolina, seven days a week. The program recently reached the benchmark of 20,000 consults provided.  

State Director John H. Magill, on behalf of The Mental Health Commission, the entire DMH agency staff, and the Governor’s Office, thanked Mary Piepenbring, Vice President of the Duke Endowment, and Linwood B. Hollowell III, Associate Director of the Duke Endowment, for providing the resources to establish and expand the DMH Telepsychiatry Program. Since 2007, The Duke Endowment has awarded DMH Telepsychiatry more than eight million dollars in grants.

Magill, Commissioner Joan Moore, and Christian Soura, the Deputy Chief of Staff, Budget and Policy, of the Office of the Governor presented Piepenbring and Hollowell with a framed print depicting an historical overview of the early years of the DMH Bull Street Hospital campus.
Hollowell, Magill, Piepenbring, Terry, Moore, Soura
Commissioner Moore pointed out that, because of the support of The Duke Endowment, thousands of patients in crisis who would otherwise not have been seen by a psychiatrist were able to consult with DMH board certified psychiatrists.

Soura said, “Each year as we work with the Agency to figure out what the needs are and the resources we have to bring to bear against them, the first thing Governor Haley asks us is, ‘What works?’  This is a project that has risen to the top of the list each year.  I know she and I both appreciate the support The Duke Endowment has provided.”

Piepenbring graciously accepted the award and stated the Telepsychiatry program is a true partnership. It’s a project in which all involved worked together, across lines, to find a solution for the benefit of South Carolina’s citizens. She attributed the success of the program to the nurturing and monitoring of the Program done by DMH as well as the research done at the University of South Carolina, headed by Dr. Meera Narasimhan, which shows the many positive effects of Telepsychiatry.

Hollowell echoed Piepenbring’s sentiment and added, “An expansive network has enabled us to put this program in place, including the South Carolina Hospital Association, the hospitals in the communities, the clinical care providers. It couldn’t happen without them.”

Medical Director Dr. Brenda Ratliff said, “Delivering the services is very rewarding because we have the ability to provide face-to-face consults to patients in rural areas. They very often express their gratitude and say that before Telepsychiatry they would have to wait much longer in EDs before receiving any type of treatment."

Telepsychiatry Program Director Ed Spencer said,“The exciting thing about this project is the list of other programs this innovative service helped create. There are now 134 other programs in the state in telehealth and we are getting more and more calls from other states about how our program operates.”

Dr. Narasimhan ended the comments with a quote which exemplifies the project: “Alone we can do little, together we can do much.”

DMH looks forward to future growth and collaboration with all of the entities that have come together to make the Telepsychiatry Program an award winning program. The Duke Endowment has our sincere gratitude for its generosity, which has allowed us to improve access to care while at the same time providing cost savings to the State. That is truly gratifying.

(L to R - Dr. Brenda Ratliff, Ed Spencer, Dr. Meera Narasimhan, Christina Strader, Linwood Hollowell, Mary Piepenbring, Joan Moore, Christian Soura, John H. Magill)

Written by Melanie Ferretti
Photography by Tracy LaPointe
July 20, 2014