Virginia Offers First Statewide Virtual Free Mental Health Clinic

May 23, 2024
Initiative collaborates with volunteer pre-licensed mental health providers to provide teletherapy to patients referred by participating free clinics

After completing a pilot phase that launched in December 2022, the nonprofit Virginia Telemental Health Initiative (VTMHI), which offers free telemental health services to eligible uninsured or underinsured Virginians, has become the Commonwealth's first-ever statewide virtual free mental health clinic.

As a virtual clinic, VTMHI collaborates with volunteer pre-licensed mental health providers in the process of completing licensure to provide teletherapy services to eligible patients who are referred by participating free and charitable clinics. The VTMHI model both expands access to mental health services and strengthens Virginia’s mental health workforce. 

“We’re so grateful to our partners and volunteers who took part in the program’s successful inaugural year of service. They helped to build an innovative structure that is putting mental health services within the reach of Virginians who otherwise could not afford or access it,” said Mara Servaites, executive director of VTMHI, in a statement. “It’s the first model we know of in the U.S. with a dual mission of providing free mental health services to medically underserved populations virtually while also supporting the next generation of mental health providers with the licensure process so they can enter the workforce faster. We learned during our first year that this new concept works, and we’re now poised for growth by bringing on additional referring clinics to serve more Virginians.”

Since its inception, VTMHI has scheduled nearly 2,000 telemental health sessions with an average of 11 days between referral and a patient's first appointment – a dramatic improvement compared to the average wait time of three months or longer, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2023 Practitioner Pulse Survey.

During the inaugural year, 43 volunteer pre-licensed mental health professionals, supported by six clinical supervisors, provided pro bono services to patients across 10 participating free and charitable clinics.

This year, VTMHI has welcomed 12 new referring clinics.

In 2024, VTMHI will invite 30 new Virginia clinics to join the program and will collaborate with an additional 75 volunteer mental health professionals. 

“Since the launch of VTMHI, we have been able to offer an initial counseling visit to patients within 24 hours in most cases. This has been immensely helpful for patients who have recently been discharged from inpatient psychiatric care or have a more urgent need,” said Shannon Raybuck, mental health care coordinator at Fauquier Free Clinic, in a statement. “This partnership allows these patients to engage quickly in services to address concerns such as substance use and anger management.”

Under the leadership of the Virginia Telehealth Network, the program is made possible thanks to the collaboration of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, the University of Virginia Karen S. Rheuban Center for Telehealth, the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center, and VTMHI’s volunteers and free clinic participants. 

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