Kalona helps pioneer mental health telemedicine

Pleasantview Home in Kalona is the first Iowa facility to offer University of Iowa geriatric mental health care through a telemedicine service made possible by a $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

Soon elderly residents in 29 long-term care facilities in Iowa will be treated for mental illness by UI Health Care geriatric mental health specialists. Rather than traveling to Iowa City for their appointments, patients and their caregivers can attend their psychiatry visits via secure video chat from their long-term care facility.

The first of many sites

Eight long-term care facilities have launched geriatric psychiatry services from UI Health Care, and Pleasantview Home in Kalona was the first facility to offer the service.

“The option for telemedicine appointments eases many burdens on the patient and their caregivers,” says Amy Skelton, director of nursing at Pleasantview Home. “Transportation can be costly or logistically complicated for caregivers, not to mention it is mentally taxing and physically exhausting on the resident. Telemedicine appointments allow the patient to maintain their daily routine in a familiar setting, and family members can optionally join the appointment at the facility or from a remote location.”

Geriatric psychiatrists care for seniors with mental and emotional disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety, and addiction. Elderly patients are often medically complex and benefit from a geriatric psychiatrist’s training to manage multiple medications for several coexisting health conditions.

Aging in Iowa

Iowa’s population is the nation’s fifth oldest with nearly 15 percent of Iowans age 65 and older. Only eight board-certified geriatric psychiatrists practice in Iowa, leaving the state’s growing elderly population with limited access to the specialized care they require.

“Psychiatric illness can impact every minute of a person’s day-to-day, so our interventions truly improve our patients’ quality of life,” says Susan Duffy, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. “Through telepsychiatry, we see patients who might not seek treatment otherwise.”

Caregivers also benefit from the service

“It is very reassuring that my mom can see a doctor in her environment, where she is most comfortable,” says Karen Schrock, the daughter of a Pleasantview Home resident. “Leaving the facility increases my mother’s anxiety and confusion. For example, the last time I took my mom to an in-person appointment she walked away while I was parking the car. We’ve learned that it works best to have two people to take her to an in-person appointment. Telemedicine gives my family the opportunity to talk directly to Dr. Duffy and observe the appointments in the same room or from a distance. It saves us a ton of time.”

The heart of the USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant

As Iowans grow older, the need for access to specialized health care in rural communities will continue to increase, and telemedicine enables providers to expand their geographic reach and meet the needs of communities across Iowa.

The $500,000 USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant funded equipment to build a telemedicine network across Iowa to increase access for patients in rural communities. Thanks to the grant and matching funds from UI Hospitals & Clinics, patients throughout the state can connect to a UI specialist who may be miles away.

Iowa demographics and mental health

  • In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 14.9 percent of the 3 million people living in Iowa were age 65 or older, ranking Iowa fifth in the nation for highest percentage of the population in this age demographic.
  • The Iowa Department on Aging estimates that by 2050 nearly 20 percent of Iowans will be senior citizens and at least 20 percent of residents in 74 of Iowa’s 99 counties will be 65 and older. In 2010, only 30 counties had a similar population.
  • In 2016, the Alzheimer’s Association reported that 63,000 Iowans age 65 and over live with Alzheimer’s disease—a progressive form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. In 2013, the disease was the sixth leading cause of death in Iowa, ranking the state fifth in the nation for Alzheimer’s death rate. The number of Iowans living with Alzheimer’s disease is anticipated to climb to 73,000 by 2025.