Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas has awarded Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry $40,000 to help roll out a new program to address the mental health needs of youngsters in rural communities across West Texas.
The funds come from the health insurer’s 2022 Healthy Kids, Healthy Families initiative, and will be used for TTUHSC El Paso’s Rural Telepsych for Youth program, which launched in February.
Rural Telepsych for Youth complements two existing programs, Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine, and the Child Psychiatry Access Network, that are helping families across West Texas access mental health care for their children. Those programs, abbreviated as TCHATT and CPAN, are part of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, established in 2019 by the Texas Legislature. TTUHSC El Paso serves as the West Texas hub for TCHATT and CPAN. Both programs focus on providing rapid access to mental health services for West Texas families. TCHATT reaches 36 school districts in a vast geographic region that’s home to approximately 200,000 children, while CPAN is responsible for a 16-county network along the Texas-Mexico border from El Paso to Eagle Pass.
Eden Hernandez Robles, Ph.D., M.S.W., director of education and research at TTUHSC El Paso, said Rural Telepsych for Youth will benefit residents of 15 rural West Texas counties by offering children in need of mental or behavioral health care up to 12 telepsychiatry sessions instead of five sessions normally offered through TCHATT and CPAN.
Dr. Robles said Rural Telepsych for Youth is already making an impact by providing care for 24 youngsters currently enrolled in the program.
“For young patients in rural communities, accessing mental health care is very challenging – resources are limited and can be located many hours away,” Dr. Robles said. “Rural Telepsych for Youth serves as an internal referral program for the patients we serve through TCHATT and CPAN. It’s ideal for children who can benefit from additional mental health services.”
The $40,000 grant is part of nearly $1.8 million in Healthy Kids, Healthy Families grants Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas issued to 40 community-based organizations statewide in 2022. The initiative focuses on health and wellness, and targeting socioeconomic and other health impacts related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
TTUHSC El Paso and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas have been proud partners in helping West Texas’ underserved communities increase access to health care. In 2019, the Caring Foundation of Texas, with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas as lead sponsor, generously donated the full-time, exclusive use of a Care Van mobile health unit to TTUHSC El Paso.
The Care Van is being used to deliver preventative health care services and health education to rural residents by the Foster School of Medicine’s Mobile Medical Student Run Clinic, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine’s Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic, Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, and other departments within the university. The Caring Foundation of Texas pays all costs associated with the Care Van’s use, including insurance, maintenance, tolls and gas.
Cindee Soza, director of large market account management for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas’ South Texas region, and other organization officials toured the TTUHSC El Paso campus and met with medical students who volunteer and train in the MSRC and use the Care Van to provide services for local patients.
Soza said a recent study showed there are health care challenges in rural Texas that include:
- 158 counties that don’t have a general surgeon.
- 147 counties that lack an OB/GYN.
- 35 counties that don’t have a doctor at all.
“Telemedicine has really helped address those rural challenges,” Soza said. “TTUHSC El Paso has been a trusted partner and we’re excited to continue collaborating with them. We look forward to impacting Texas youth with this program in these areas, as well as others.”