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Sen. Corbin sponsors bill to expand telepsychiatry services in NC

A bipartisan bill to increase access to critical health services cosponsored by Senator Kevin Corbin was approved by the Senate’s appropriations committee to be placed in the state’s budget. 

Senate Bill 161, the NC Statewide Telepsychiatry Program/Funds, was introduced into the legislature on February 25 by Republican Senator Corbin, Democrat Don Davis, and Republican Bob Steinburg. 

“During the COVID19 Pandemic it became more evident than ever that parts of our state are in desperate need of essential medical services such as telepsychiatry,” said Senator Corbin. “To ensure that residents in all parts of North Carolina have access to the experts they need to receive mental health treatment my colleagues and I introduced a bill to expanding funding for telepsychiatry across North Carolina.”

Telepsychiatry is defined as “the delivery of acute mental health or substance abuse care, including diagnosis or treatment, by means of two-way real-time interactive audio and video by a consulting provider at a consultant site to an individual patient at a referring site.”

The American Psychiatric Association reported that more than 36 percent of Americans say that the coronavirus pandemic is having a serious impact o n their mental health and as many as one in five people have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder. 

In North Carolina, there are 31 counties without a psychiatrist, and 90 counties are designated as mental health shortage areas. 

The bill calls for funding be allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services to expand the existing statewide telepsychiatry program — NC-Step. 

Senate Bill 161 appropriates $1 million from the General Fund to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Central Management and Support, Office of Rural Health for the 2021-23 biennium. It requires allocation of the funds to the ECU Center for Telepsychiatry and e-Behavioral Health effective July 1, 2021.

“This funding will help schools across Western North Carolina tap into the NC-Step program to get students the services they need — especially after the isolation many have experienced during the COVID19 Pandemic,” said Senator Corbin. “For so many areas of our county there are a shortage of mental health providers — which results in patients going to hospital emergency departments to seek services. We have the digital technologies to bridge social distance, even while physical distancing measures are in place and this bill helps get that technology to historical underserved areas.”

The NC Statewide Telepsychiatry Program (NC-STeP) was developed in response to Session Law 2013-360, directing the Office of Rural Health (ORH) to oversee a statewide telepsychiatry initiative. The program was instituted so that an individual presenting at a hospital emergency department with an acute behavioral health crisis will receive a timely specialized psychiatric assessment via video conferencing technology.

“We are excited that Senate Bill 161 was pulled from committee to be included in the budget,” said Senator Corbin. “We are one step closer to expanding these services for residents in North Carolina” 

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