“One of the things that always makes me feel great about working with Iris is the alignment of Iris’s mission with our mission. That, for me, has always been seamless.”
Jennette Hitchcock, LCSW
Chief Operations Officer, AMHC
Aroostook Mental Health Services, Inc. (AMHC) serves communities in rural northern Maine across Aroostook, Washington, and Hancock counties. AMHC oversees 26 service sites and 325 employees, operating nearly 6,000 clients annually. The organization provides mental health services, substance use counseling, crisis services, sexual assault services, and brain injury services (Aroostook County). AMHC recently celebrated its 55th anniversary.
Northern Maine’s economy is somewhat depressed, and Aroostook County is more extensive than some U.S. states at a whopping 6,672 square miles. Aroostook county has a sparse population with just 11.1 people per square mile.
Challenge: recruiting and retaining high-quality behavioral healthcare providers
Northern Maine’s geography has led to myriad challenges for AMHC’s recruitment strategy. Mainers affectionately call Aroostook “The County,” due to its vast size, and it can be difficult for staff to support the various clinics within this large land area. Recruiting providers to move from out of state can be problematic in Maine’s extremely rural environment. Families from out of state expect amenities and resources that Northern Maine may not have to offer. Finally, finding staff who qualify within state regulations for behavioral health adds another problematic criterion to meet in the already limited applicant pool.
For these reasons, recruiting professional staff, including psychiatrists and social workers, is daunting. Before AMHC opted to partner with Iris Telehealth, the clinic faced a staff shortage due to the medical director’s retirement. The clinic was down to one psychiatrist onboard the team while the Human Resources team and recruiters actively searched for another full-time psychiatrist for several months. AMHC sorely needed psychiatrists specializing in children and adolescents and a psychiatrist for consultation help. AMHC considered contracting other individuals in the area but was wary due to negative past experiences with mental health contractors.
Solution: collaborating with a company that focuses on alignment and high-quality care
After AMHC’s CEO met Iris Telehealth at a medical conference, AMHC explored partnership options and eventually contracted with Iris Telehealth to provide telepsychiatry care to its community patients. Iris conducted an evaluation process to fit credentialed, trained Iris psychiatrists with AMHC’s unique community needs who would be perfect fits in the virtual community care culture.
AMHC already had the technology infrastructure in place from other telehealth implementations when the organization hired Iris Telehealth to support its psychiatry needs. Iris and AMHC both dedicated significant Information Technology (IT) support to jump start the partnership. The IT teams evaluated the solution’s feasibility, constructed technology infrastructure, anticipated challenges, and established a contact and support workflow.
To align with existing clinic workflows, AMHC alerted primary care physicians of the new services and the organization’s goal to alleviate physicians’ burden through telepsychiatry. Iris Telehealth’s team also connected with AMHC’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) to consolidate data processing. The committee organizing the launch collaborated with the EHR vendor, the EHR administrator, the AMHC Medical Assistant (MA), and the clinical team to ensure a seamless launch. AMHC’s MA was already on staff before contracting with Iris and transitioned their MA psychiatry responsibilities to telepsychiatry. The MA was crucial to bringing together various partnership components. Clients experienced a smooth launch knowing that both the Iris teams and the MA were available to support the telepsychiatry collaboration.
Result: providing high-quality behavioral healthcare to the community
“They’re part of us,” effuses Jennette Hitchcock, AMHC’s Chief Operating Officer, while referring to the Iris clinicians. “The psychiatrists have felt very connected to AMHC and are very much a part of us, and we feel that they are a part of us.”
AMHC identifies Iris Telehealth’s choice of providers as the key to their successful partnership. Iris Telehealth’s process ensures community connections, from the community meet and greet before first appointments to Iris Telehealth’s clinicians’ training regimen. Iris’s Dr. Miller at the children’s residential clinic has received glowing patient feedback for years.
From technology glitches to paperwork mishaps, Iris’s clinician training program prepares psychiatrists for the telehealth space’s unique challenges. AMHC’s staff has appreciated the clinicians’ composure and professionalism while working through challenges. Additionally, Iris clinicians provide consultation services for AMHC professional staff, most commonly in AMHC’s children’s residential facility, which requires a psychiatrist to be available for consultations. Physicians can ask Iris Telehealth psychiatrists for consultation before prescribing for or diagnosing certain conditions. Iris Telehealth has provided Aroostook County with the care it needs as a community, from finding a great fit between clinicians and patients to supporting AMHC’s internal team.
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To learn more about AMHC, you can visit their website here. If you’d like learn more about collaborating with Iris to improve access to mental healthcare in your community, let us know in the form below!