Department of Psychiatry responds to pandemic with virtual efforts

Julie Gentile, chair of psychiatry in the Boonshoft School of Medicine.

The Department of Psychiatry at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine began the use of telepsychiatry with a grant-funded, statewide resource in 2012, entitled Ohio’s Telepsychiatry Project for Intellectual Disability. It was one of the first in the state and provides patient care to underserved and outlying counties with limited infrastructure and resources.

“The COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent need to utilize our extensive telehealth experience to convert multiple community mental health centers all over the Dayton community within hours to ensure seamless and uninterrupted medical care for existing patients, as well as to be available for new patients in need of assessment of mental health conditions,” said Julie Gentile, M.D., chair of psychiatry.

Currently, the original project provides psychiatric care to over 1,550 patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability from 80 counties across Ohio. It employs six Boonshoft School of Medicine faculty and is a training site with eight upper-level residents contributing doctor hours. Referrals can call 937-641-8554 for more information.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the department also moved to convert its Resident Psychotherapy Clinic entirely from in-person, face-to-face appointments to exclusively web-based and telephone appointments. The clinic is currently accepting new patients. Individuals may call to inquire at 937-775-PSYC (7792).

“With the support of Wright State Physicians, Dr. Allison Cowan, and Manager Amy Griffith, we also moved the resident clinic’s system to a new electronic health record so as to allow psychiatrists and psychiatric residents improved provision of care and protected health care information from a safe social distance,” Gentile said.

The department also has aided and supported conversion of Access Ohio Mental Health and the Montgomery County Board of Developmental Disabilities Mental Health Services to entirely web-based and telephone psychiatric care, under the direction of Program Manager Carroll Jackson. The clinics provide the full range of mental health services, including psychiatric services provided by several psychiatric residents and Wright State faculty psychiatrists.

The educational programs for the Department of Psychiatry have also instituted virtual town-hall meetings to create a web-based platform for psychiatry residents and faculty to meet virtually for the provision of updates about the use of personal protective equipment and other safety measures at clinical settings. The town hall meetings also include site updates from all funding partners. It provides an open forum for learners to ask questions and discuss concerns about the provision of direct patient care in hospital settings with departmental leadership.

While the volume of patient encounters for psychiatry remains mostly unchanged, the Department of Psychiatry realizes that certain specialties will see an increase in both volume and severity of cases, so the staff has created several initiatives in order to help support those specialties. These include the Mental Health Support Hotline for local physicians and increased collaboration with the other specialties to work on prevention.

Looking forward, there is preparation for an increase in patients suffering from anxiety and depression due to the fear and grief that this pandemic has caused, as well as the increase in unemployment and financial hardship. While children generally seem to be spared the worst of the COVID-19 illness, many will suffer from grief, anxiety, child abuse and neglect. For more information on Child/Adolescent Psychiatry services, contact the training program at 937-775-PSYC.

“The residents in our program have shown incredible leadership and advocacy. Their contributions are not surprising to me,” Gentile said. “I continue to be inspired by their expertise, integrity, and sense of community. The best part of our training program has always been our people.”

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