Tele-Health Services Reach Rural Brazos Residents

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: April 23, 2009

Due to distance, lack of transportation, insurance and providers, access to mental health services is an ongoing issue for many rural Brazos Valley residents, according to a 2006 survey conducted by the Center for Community Health Development (CCHD) in the School for Rural Public Health at Texas A&M University. However, Tele-Health is working to change that.

Tele-Health is a long-distance counseling service that uses videoconferencing equipment and a secure internet connection. The service operates out of the Leon County Health Resource Center in Centerville and the Counseling and Assessment Clinic (CAC), which is located in Bryan and run by the Department of Educational Psychology (EPSY) in the College of Education and Human Development.

Tele-Health is the culmination of efforts by the Brazos Valley Health Partnership, a nonprofit entity made up of seven Brazos Valley counties, two advisory groups and the CCHD, to better meet the mental health needs of rural residents. Tele-Health is overseen by Timothy Elliott, professor of counseling psychology, and Bill Rae, CAC director and clinical professor of school psychology.

"Basically what we're doing is trying to take the CAC and all its services that are available to people in Bryan/College Station and use long-distance technology to provide these same services throughout the Brazos Valley," Elliott said.

Tele-Health started in 2007 with a grant awarded to Leon County and the CCHD from the Office of Rural Health Policy. Although the program hit a snag when developing the infrastructure necessary to connect the CAC to the Centerville center, the two facilities now share a secure internet connection with a television-speed refresh rate. The program began taking clients in 2009.

Two EPSY doctoral students, Carly McLaughlin and Ryan Blucker, provide Tele-Health assessment and counseling services on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other Friday. Some sessions are available in Spanish.

"The system we have is quite sophisticated, and the interaction between the client and counselor happens in real time with no glitches or pauses," said McLaughlin, a first-year Ph.D. student in counseling psychology. "Other than not being able to actually hand a client a tissue, the relationship feels pretty similar to one that develops in a face-to-face session."

The program is currently considering extending services to an additional site in Madisonville.

"[Tele-Health's] not only consistent with the mission of Texas A&M and certainly our college, but also with what we should be doing with applied science and community outreach," Elliott said. "It's certainly being responsive to a group of people who encounter disparities in services simply by the virtue of where they live."