MHTF: confronting internet problems/searching for solutions
The Block Island Mental Health Task Force is searching to find faster and more accessible Internet service on the island. At the group’s meeting on Aug. 9, chair Steve Hollaway noted the island’s problems with broadband were affecting the telemedicine program, which has been up and running since January. Hollaway said it was important to run the program “at a higher level of resolution.”
Task force member Michael Brownstein spoke of a colleague, Melissa Thompson, who had developed an application for smartphones and tablets called TalkSession, that was compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Brownstein said Thompson “would be willing to let us play with it.” Basically, the app offers “on-demand, mobile therapy and counseling sessions,” he said. “It’s a one-button app on iPhone and very fast.” However, before such a connection can be downloaded, health providers will have to sign on to be available at agreed-upon times.
Hollaway also shared a letter he’d received from Arietta Slade, a psychologist and island resident, who expressed interest in joining the task force. In the letter, Slade spoke of the importance of having an in-person counselor come to the island.
To that end, telemedicine caseworker Tracey Fredericks said the group was in contact with South Shore Mental Health Center, discussing bringing over one of their staff members — on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Brownstein thought it important not to fall into an ‘either-or’ mentality but to run concurrent programs.
Child psychologist and island resident Laura Parsons attended the meeting and addressed the issue of raising money for the group. She suggested investigating grant possibilities from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is dedicated to reducing “the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.”
Brownstein expressed frustration with the series of talks the task force has been sponsoring because they had not drawn audiences of younger community members, particularly in view of the untimely deaths this spring of two islanders.
Brownstein was hoping to have an opportunity to bring a program directly into the school to “have a no-holds-barred exchange with high school students.” Parsons volunteered to do a talk before the opening of the school that also addressed parents.
The group agreed that it was important to reach out to young people and to that end to contact the new principal, Kristine Monje, to see what might be arranged.
Brownstein thought there should be more discussions on island — with the police chief and with other responsible persons in the town — to interact with young adults who may be experimenting with illegal drugs. For example, just short of arrest, Brownstein proposed issuing something like a citation — not lightly given or easily paid off — but issued with specific repercussions, such as notifying the school so that the student may be suspended and may lose athletic or other privileges.
The citations would also come with obligations, such as requiring the individual to see a counselor and to perform services within their community for a significant period of time. Brownstein summed up the approach: “It’s done in a way that’s sympathetic, yet a little scary!’
Hollaway noted that the group is in the process of affiliating with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and it would need to form a subcommittee to work on creating bylaws. Affiliation with the national group, Hollaway pointed out, “automatically provides non-profit status.”
Discussion turned to concerns of confidentiality and assuring the public that the group working on the telemedicine program was completely dedicated to maintaining patients’ privacy. Nevertheless, Fredericks, the program’s caseworker, said many individuals currently taking advantage of the program worried about “the gossip thing.” She added, for some individuals using the telemedicine program, “There’s still a trust issue.” Hollaway said he would try to help change this attitude.