NC-STeP sites selected to provide mental health services for children

Six pediatric primary care sites have been selected to provide mental health services for children and adolescents in North Carolina as part of the expansion of the North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program (NC-STeP).

Children present their design ideas for the “NC Kids Get Well” community house. The virtual space is part of NC-STeP-Peds. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

NC-STeP-Peds is funded by a $3.2 million investment from the United Health Foundation. It continues the foundation’s commitment to working with East Carolina University to address mental health challenges in North Carolina and provide mental health care services to underserved children and adolescents in rural and underserved parts of the state.

Dr. Sy Saeed, director of the ECU Center for Telepsychiatry and founding executive director of NC-STeP, said the program will offer expert consultation support for pediatricians and other clinicians through telemedicine and aid in removing the stigma often associated with mental health care.

Saeed introduced the expansion sites recently to a program advisory group. NC-STeP-Peds will be located in Dare, Wayne, Sampson, Catawba, Guilford and Robeson counties. Once contracts are finalized, Catawba Pediatric Associates, PA; Carolina Pediatrics of the Triad, PA; Clinton Medical Clinic, Goldsboro Pediatrics, PA; Robeson Pediatrics and Surf Pediatrics and Medicine will be part of the NC-STeP-Peds network. Saeed expects the services to go live between late July and mid-August.

“NC-STeP-Peds is an example of living East Carolina University’s motto — ‘to serve,’” Saeed said. “This program is about providing the best evidence-based care to our patients regardless of where they may be located.”

Saeed believes the program will be successful because it is guided by the lessons learned from implementation science, which emphasizes that the services should be evidence-based practices, that the clinicians should find the service meaningful, and that the new service is not burdensome and is a part of the workflow for the clinicians.

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) will be hired for each site. The LCSW and clinicians at each location will also have virtual access to one of four child and adolescent psychiatrists providing 24 hours of service each week.

Liliana Lovelace presents her design ideas for the “NC Kids Get Well” community house. The virtual space is part of NC-STeP-Peds. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

Dr. Palmer Edwards, who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry in Winston-Salem, is one of the four psychiatrists supporting the sites and serves as the program’s medical director.

“What was very clear during the site selection was how engaged everyone is and how much of a need there is for these services,” Edwards said. “Once the mental health needs of patients are identified in initial screenings, that’s where NC-STeP goes into action.”

Virtual components of the program also are nearing completion. Dr. Yajiong “Lucky” Xue, Robert D. Teer Distinguished Professor, Department of Management Information Systems, and students in the ECU College of Business are building a 3-D virtual community house for children to explore as part of their care.

Through the “Healthy Mind for NC Kids” event in June, Xue and the students invited children to participate in designing the “NC Kids Get Well” community house that serves as the background of the virtual reality.

Xue said the children were excited about contributing their ideas for the virtual house and how it ought to look. They are continuing to provide input on the décor of the virtual space. Xue expects the virtual reality (VR) components to be ready for an August rollout.

In announcing the initiative in February, Gov. Roy Cooper said the NC-STeP partnership between ECU and the United Health Foundation helps advance his mission for the state for people to be able to live healthier lives with opportunities of purpose and abundance. Cooper said telemedicine will help bring experts to people wherever they are throughout North Carolina.

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