Telehealth panel proceeds on mental-health ideas for South Dakota

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, SD (KELO) — South Dakota lawmakers could encourage using the internet more often to connect mental health services, a National Conference of State Legislatures analyst suggested Tuesday. 

Sydne Enlund spoke by telephone to the Legislature’s committee studying how to leverage telemedicine and telehealth to provide greater access.  

Senator Deb Solholt chairs the panel. She asked members to develop two or three “crisp” sentences setting forth measurements of success. 

“What are some things that have to be in place that aren’t?” the Sioux Falls Republican said. 

It was the panel’s third meeting. The group will gather at least once more and possibly a fifth time. 

Enlund gave examples of states such as Kentucky, where telehealth treatment for opioid patients in jails are offered. She sent a memo to the panel members ahead of her testimony. 

Soholt said the background information was valuable. “It really sounds like everyone in the country is trying to wrap their arms around this telehealth arena,” she said. 

Terry Dosch and Tiffany Wolfgang testified about South Dakota’s publicly funded behavioral health system, including the known vacancies in June. 

“The staffing component is a little bit elusive,” Wolfgang said. She is director for the state Division of Behavioral Health Services

Their report on mental health centers was the first and will be done quarterly. 

Dosch is executive director for the South Dakota Council of Mental Health Centers. He called attention to the report’s column showing master-level therapists. He said they were 16 vacancies in June, a shortfall of 11 percent. 

From Leverage Telehealth and Telemedicine  meeting documents.

He noted three therapist vacancies are in a four-county area in remote northwestern South Dakota, representing half of the available slots there. 

“Staffing is always going to be a challenge,” Dosch said. He said it’s a matter of “attracting the right people to this caring work.” 

South Dakota has a lot of border area, Dosch said, and communities need to be able to recruit from neighboring states. He also suggested more  recruitment of students. 

“Not just any warm body will do. These are very vulnerable individuals who need quality care,” Dosch said. 

He said flexibility should be left to the state boards that regulate the various services. 

Soholt said rural areas deserve specialized health and education services but don’t have the population that attracts those people. 

“It is a pipe dream to think we’re going to get that highly specialized person living there,” she said. 

Soholt said the Legislature’s past work on the nursing shortage in South Dakota led to changes in training programs that were put in place at four public and private universities that offer nursing programs in the state. 

The panel is one of five the Legislature assigned this year to look at current challenges to mental health access and propose steps for the 2020 session.

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