MVCS telemedicine clinic boosts mental health care on Martha’s Vineyard

UMass Medical School–based psychiatrist will treat Islanders via videoconference.

From left, Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank Regional President of Martha's Vineyard Richard Leonard and President and CEO, Dorothy Savarese; Julie Fay, executive director of MVCS; Melissa Hackney, Chair of The Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha's Vineyard, and Bob Egerton, president of the MVCS board of directors unveil the Telemedicine Clinic at Martha's Vineyard Community Services on Thursday.– Stacey Rupolo

Updated January 23, 10:30 am

Looking to address the acute shortage of psychiatric care on Martha’s Vineyard, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) is opening a telemedicine clinic that will enable Vineyarders to be seen by Dr. Alan Brown, psychiatrist at UMass Medical School in Worcester, via videoconferencing.

Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via videoconferencing technology.

“We started working on telemedicine some time ago,” Jan Hatchard, MVCS director of development, told The Times prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday. “It was designed to fill the gap we have struggled with as long as I’ve been here.”

Ms. Hatchard said the ball got rolling early this summer, when Richard Leonard, regional president of Martha’s Vineyard at Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, approached her and said the bank wanted to do something to support mental health services on the Island. The conversation resulted in a $5,000 donation to cover the cost of the telemedicine clinic technology. “There’s a stigma that surrounds mental health that sometimes keeps things from being funded,” Mr. Leonard told The Times. “We had it on our radar, and for a remote place with limited resources, this program is a great fit.” A group of private donors subsequently contributed $35,000, and the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha’s Vineyard also provided $4,200 to furnish and refurbish the waiting room, nurse’s office, and telemedicine office.

“It was the generosity of a lot of people that brought this together,” Ms. Hatchard said. “This came together at warp speed.”

The telemedicine clinic will also enable Islanders to see a wide range of psychiatric specialists, including Dr. Jean Frazier, a nationally recognized expert on autism.
MVCS executive director Julie Fay said that in general, children respond well to telemedicine. “Kids are so used to looking at a screen, there’s a comfort level there that some adults don’t have initially,” she said. “I think it’ll take a while to catch on, and once it does, we’ll look to add more subspecialties.”

While this is the first telemedicine venture at MVCS, UMass Medical Center began telemedicine treatment in 2006, and is actively involved in 30 telemedicine programs.
A telemedicine session will begin with an MVCS nurse taking the patient’s vital signs. After the nurse leaves the conference room, the session begins.

“It will be just as if they are sitting in this room with our staff psychiatrist,” Ms. Hatchard said.

Currently, very few of the very few practicing psychiatrists on the Island take health insurance. Typically, off-Island psychiatrists that come to the Vineyard also do not take health insurance, and require cash, up front.

Because MVCS takes all health insurance, the telemedicine clinic will vastly improve Islander access to psychiatric care, and to medication.

“That’s huge,” Ms. Hatchard said. “That’s been a struggle for our clients. And for us.” If the psychiatrist determines medication is in order, the prescription will be sent electronically to the Island pharmacy the patient chooses.

Appointments are due to begin in March. Island residents can sign up for the Telemedicine Clinic by calling MVCS at 508-693-7900.