Baltimore, MD – The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) this week launched a telehealth equipment pilot program to help increase access to clinically appropriate telehealth services for mental health and substance use disorder patients in ten Maryland jurisdictions. The program provides funding for smartphones, tablets, and high-speed internet access for telehealth videoconferencing.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, telehealth has become integral but it is still out of reach for many of the people who need it most,” said MDH Secretary Dennis R. Schrader. “Our goal is to provide telehealth support to every Marylander, and that includes our most vulnerable patients, to help ensure health care continuity and better outcomes for all.”
According to the Pew Research Center and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), disparities in telehealth access continue to exist based on income, race, ethnicity and geographic location. BHA budgeted $1.5 million in SAMHSA block grant funding to launch the new pilot in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Prince George’s, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, and Wicomico Counties to serve 375 patients over a one-year period.
Participating local behavioral health authorities selected providers to participate in the pilot through an application process. Providers will receive funds to purchase and maintain HIPAA-compliant smartphones and tablets to loan to patients during their period of enrollment for care. Providers will identify patient participants based on need, considering factors including transportation, childcare, or those who may not remain in care without the option of telehealth.
Most adults will receive smartphones while children and adolescents and older adults or adults with vision problems may receive tablets. Participating patients will also receive funding to cover one year of monthly wireless carrier or internet access fees. Providers will train both patients and staff to use the equipment and will offer technical support as needed.
The program will collect data and information from participating providers, including quarterly reports on demographics, commonly used services, devices provided, method of internet access, and provider and client satisfaction. Surveys and evaluations will help determine what modifications may be needed if the program expands to other jurisdictions.
“Telehealth reduces barriers to treatment by opening the door for more people to enter into care,” said MDH Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health Dr. Aliya Jones. “It is important to address the digital divide so that people with mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders are more fully able to take advantage of this treatment modality when clinically appropriate.”
For more information about COVID-19 resources for behavioral health providers in Maryland, visit bha.health.maryland.gov/Pages/bha-covid-19.