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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Psychiatrists with Indiana University Health are providing their services across the state, but the demand for these services is exploding.

IU Health is responding by extending virtual behavioral health support services with around-the-clock access to psychiatric care for emergency rooms patients in need of a psychiatric evaluation.

“Indiana, in general, has very few psychiatrists per capita,” said Dr. Anne Gilbert, a psychiatrist and the medical director of Behavioral Health Virtual Services at IU Health. Gilbert estimated Indiana ranked 40th or worse in the category nationally.

The virtual service program through the hospital’s Behavioral Health Hub allows patients to stay at a IU Health network hospital’s emergency room, which will cut the wait time for an assessment.

“They would have to put them in an ambulance and send them two or three hours away sometimes for a psychiatric evaluation at one of our other emergency departments,” said Gilbert.

This would create higher bills for patients, who often struggle to find a ride back to their hometowns.

The lack of psychiatric care at rural hospitals applies to most of the IU Health network hospitals. Even patients at the emergency room in IU West and IU North hospitals would have to get an ambulance ride to somewhere downtown for the assessment.

“We have a lot of patients with psychiatric concerns as well as addiction issues who could really use this type of service,” said Dr. Karen Crevier, an emergency physician at IU West Hospital.

Patients are assessed through a 25-35 minute virtual interview. Afterwards, the psychiatrist can recommend the patient with a safety plan, treatment, or advise the hospital staff to get the patient access to a social worker or therapists and enroll them in behavioral health services near their home hospital.

The rollout of the program began in March, with the patients at Arnett and Frankfort hospitals joining the service. As of this month, hospitals in Jay, Blackford and Tipton counties, along with hospitals in Bedford and Paoli, are now a part of the virtual program. The Saxony, Bloomington, White, Morgan, North, and West hospitals will be added to the service in the next two months.