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T-HELP reaches patients in person, online

Published September 25, 2019

Imagine being able to have your medical appointment over the phone or use an online webcam for a therapy session.

With telehealth technology, not only can patients make secure online appointments that reduce no-show rates, but they can also get help even if they live in rural areas or underserved communities. Many major health care systems, including Veterans Affairs Hospital in Long Beach and other local clinics, see a need for this type of practice, especially for those with chronic illness who aren’t readily available to drive.

The Telehealth Education Learning in Psychiatry (T-HELP) pilot program at Cal State Long Beach was created to focus on serving the Latino community by training psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) students to provide community-based mental health services for diverse and underserved populations.

The training program, integrated into the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Master of Science in Nursing program, launched this semester with 21 nurse practitioner participants. The program will consist of in-class training and simulation sessions before starting real life group sessions in October; four sessions will be in person and another four will be held online.

Dr. Christine Costa, a School of Nursing faculty member and director of the graduate program for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, has gathered a team of experts, public mental health service providers, key staff and resources from Cal State Long Beach to oversee T-HELP. Dr. Cathy Deckers, co-investigator from the School of Nursing faculty, offered her expertise in simulation to the program.

Dr. Myra Bird, director of the school’s Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training, also serves as a co-investigator and an integral leader in the program. She helps students consider the cultural and linguistic tailoring of health services in T-HELP. She also gathered information from youth, young adult and Latino audiences to inform the development of the new curriculum.

“How do you assess nonverbal communication? How do you create trust via a screen? What tactics would you use in person versus on screen?” Bird said.  “All of these components have to be taught or practiced.”

T-HELP is funded by a $1 million grant from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), which helped purchase and install telehealth equipment on campus, including computer monitors, telehealth software and new tablets; development of community-engaged curriculum by clinical faculty, and the creation of a website to share findings with public and academic communities.

The training program utilizes a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant video conferencing software that keeps sensitive and personal information secure. The new software will allow nurse practitioner students in the training program to lead online therapy sessions.

The sessions will take place at different locations, including on campus as well as at off-site locations -- Jordan High School and HOAG Health Center. Each group session will consist of five to six participants with two PMHNP nurse practitioner students leading the conversation. These sessions for T-HELP training will focus on general mental health wellness and ways to develop resilience.

Topics include coping with stress, problem solving, dealing with emotions in healthy ways and positive self-talk. Two additional PMHNP students will be developing health promotion/self-care modules to support the group participants to develop new health practices. If participants need to be further assessed, they will be referred to receive other mental health services, Costa said.