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Monday, August 26, 2019

WMCHealth Wants to Bring Behavioral Healthcare to Underserved Communities

Posted By: Advancing Care

WMCHealth specialists offer remote mentoring services to help local providers treat behavioral health issues in underserved areas.

By Sally Parker
As seen in the September/October 2019 issue of Advancing Care

Staff members at Hillcrest House were stumped.

Some residents in the Poughkeepsie transitional-housing program were relapsing into substance abuse. How could the agency address the problem while keeping residents in a stable environment?

Marsha Eldridge, resident services manager at Hillcrest House, turned to colleagues at the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth).

The Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, or Project ECHO®, offered through WMCHealth, is a New York State Department of Health initiative that develops the abilities of local providers to safely and effectively treat behavioral health issues in rural and underserved areas. In the Hudson Valley, providers in eight counties participate in biweekly video-conference sessions with specialist mentors at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, the flagship of WMCHealth.

Now, Hillcrest residents meet with a specially trained social worker on-site, rather than leaving the residence for appointments.

“It’s so much easier,” Eldridge says. “We’re better able to serve that person as they work toward sobriety.”

Project ECHO® participants include primary-care clinicians, social workers and caregivers in a variety of settings, from home care to homeless shelters, says Thao Doan, MPH, Dr.PH, Project ECHO® Principal Investigator at Westchester Medical Center. Training focuses on topics that include depression, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.


Local providers and specialists interested in participating in Project ECHO® can contact Dr. Thao Doan at [email protected] or visit crhi-ny.org for more information.


The program is offered through WMCHealth’s Performing Provider System (PPS), which was established to participate in New York State’s Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program, an initiative aimed at reducing avoidable hospitalizations in New York State over five years.

Each session begins with an educational presentation by a specialist, followed by a discussion about symptoms, best practices and treatment options. One or two participants then present a case for feedback.

“We talk a lot about toxic stress, which creates mental health issues in children,” says program participant Barbara Gannon, MD, a Washingtonville-based pediatrician.

“I think there are a lot of other primary-care physicians who would benefit from doing this, as well,” Dr. Gannon says. “You learn something new every week.”

Through Project ECHO®, Dr. Gannon has become better-equipped to treat behavioral health issues she sees in her Washingtonville practice. With a shortage of specialists who can treat depression, anxiety, ADHD and addiction, says Dr. Gannon, more people are turning to their local providers.

“The idea here is you move knowledge and not patients,” Dr. Doan says. “Imagine your doctor knows how to screen you for depression. She has direct access to a psychiatrist, to behavioral-health social workers. Your doctor can provide treatment and prescribe medication. That saves you a lot of time, especially if you’re in a rural area.”

Results from the program show that the initiative not only increases participants’ knowledge, but creates a community of professional peers and enhances provider well-being, among other benefits.

Visit us at Westchester Medical Center, a member of Westchester Medical Center Health Network, to learn more. Advancing Care. Here.

Pictured above: Samantha Martinez, intern; Thao M. Doan, MPH, DrPH, Project ECHO Principal Investigator; Andrew Levin, MD, Psychiatrist and Behavioral Health Project ECHO Clinical Director; Aby Diop, PCMH CCE, Senior Manager, Behavioral Health; and Nivedita Bajaj, MPH, MA, Senior Advisor