S.D. lawmakers will seek broader use of broadband to deliver mental health services

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The spread of stronger internet services throughout South Dakota should be used for delivering mental-health care to places and people that have been under-served, a group of state lawmakers and professionals said Wednesday.

The Legislature’s study group on leveraging telehealth and telemedicine agreed on a list of recommendations and several specific proposals.

Lawmakers approved a resolution in the 2019 session that called for five task forces of lawmakers and outside professionals to work on proposals for improving mental health services.

Their sets of plans are to be offered for the 2020 session that opens January 14. Senator Deb Soholt, a Sioux Falls Republican, chairs the panel that finished work Wednesday on ways to leverage telehealth and telemedicine through broader use of broadband networks.

Soholt said the group’s final report would be presented December 3 to the Legislature’s Executive Board, when lawmakers gather at the Capitol to hear Governor Kristi Noem’s budget recommendations.

The panel worked for more than 90 minutes assembling the final version of its conclusions, findings and recommendations.

The opening statement should reflect they want available “the full continuum” of help, suggested Tiffany Wolfgang, director for the state Division of Behavioral Health Services. “Your language is spot on,” replied Representative Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat. 

Terry Dosch, executive director of the South Dakota Council of Community Behavioral Health, said his members “see no recourse” other than adding telehealth services. “I don’t think it’s the total solution, but it’s an important one,” he said.

Dosch said the teleconference, conducted from the Capitol with connections to most of the members spread throughout South Dakota, showed technology’s usefulness. “I see it in the same avenue as that,” he said.

Dosch urged that legislators keep using state regulatory boards to ensure compliance and get recommendations for standards of practice. Device security must be “paramount” in ensuring a patient’s privacy and access affordability must be kept in mind, he said.

The panel endorsed three draft pieces of legislation.

One would define telehealth technologies and roles. The second would provide for the use of electronic communication in the involuntary commitment process. The third would expand availability of 211 services to all 66 counties.

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