Ben Archer Health Center serves Sierra, Luna, Dona Ana, and Otero counties in New Mexico. As part of the Access to Care and Education project, Ben Archer Health Center which will provide direct-to-consumer telehealth services to increase access to care (particularly for substance use disorder and behavioral health treatment) and improve patient health outcomes for a target population that is comprised of migratory and seasonal agricultural workers.
The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Frances Scappaticci, director of nursing and performance improvement at Ben Archer Health Center, about participation in the Evidence-Based Telehealth Network Program.
To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your telehealth program?
One of our greatest accomplishments in this early stage is putting together the team that is going to be instrumental in carrying out the project. When you look at any type of grant project, the data management piece is critical to establish early on and then going forward this helps to ensure the outcomes we are reporting are accurate and concise. We were able to find a young man with his master’s degree in public health who is very interested in border issues and lives in our Columbus area, which is on the border of New Mexico and Mexico. It is an area very embedded with the program, and he has been instrumental in creating some very structured data that gives us a baseline measurement from which we can move forward.
What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar telehealth program?
I think it is important that we embrace all of our baseline data. For instance, the behavioral health services for one of our sites, the Columbus area, is very limited. We have not been able to service that area as well as we want to, from a behavioral health perspective. Many factors have contributed to that including access to internet, broadband services, and the education required to overcome hesitancy in the use of telehealth. It is OK to sometimes start from zero and move forward from there — creating exciting and creative methods that significantly improve the measures. It is great to have times when you look at your data and see you have growth potential that can occur during this project and this is very exciting.
How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth’s Evidence Based Telehealth Network Program impacting your broader health improvement efforts?
There is a very rural and very diverse group of migrant and seasonal workers that live on the border and they seem to sometimes be the forgotten pieces of the community. What Ben Archer Health Center brings to the table is that we can find a way to overcome some of those barriers. It is not always easy to update broadband in an area, but we can assist those individuals to get into telehealth services by bringing them into a clinic where you may have more access to services and internet connectivity. The staff can then assist the patients in connecting with a provider or a specialist, and during this process provide virtual health literacy that will allow the patient to potentially be able to connect on their own if services are available.
What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic?
We had telehealth services pre-COVID and we were positioned well with technology to expand quickly to increase services. Just anecdotally, behavioral health providers like the use of telehealth for working with their patients and they have embraced it more than some did before COVID when they were doing more face-to-face visits. In a way, telehealth has probably reduced some of the COVID fatigue and impact on staff in terms of how they feel about putting themselves at risk with daily interactions with patients. Use of telehealth has been a positive in being able to support staff on the frontline by seeing patients with a little bit of safety, but being able to continue to provide access to care and quality services.