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Virtual Probate System Is a Game Changer for McLeod Behavioral Health

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A video conferencing system has allowed McLeod Behavioral Health in Darlington to continue admissions and care for the mentally ill in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies show as many as one in eight emergency department visits is related to a mental disorder or substance use. The COVID-19 pandemic may have increased that rate due to higher numbers of people experiencing depression and anxiety.

A video conferencing system has allowed McLeod Behavioral Health in Darlington to continue admissions and care for the mentally ill in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We implemented the tele probate system which just basically protects the judge’s health so he is able to work remotely and we are able to protect the patient and the staff because they remain in house,” said Tim Smoak, associate vice president for patient services at Mcleod Health.

McLeod transitioned to the tele probate system in March of last year.

“Without the ability to have interface with the (probate) judge, we would not be able to admit those patients and those patients would be held up in our Emergency Rooms which is not a safe environment,” Smoak said.

Monthly about 80 patients are admitted to McLeod’s Behavioral Health Center. Once a patient is involuntarily committed, McLeod has seven days to evaluate them and prescribe necessary medications to treat their condition. Mental health problems might include depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or some type of psychosis. Patients might be suicidal and pose a threat to themselves or others if they are discharged without treatment.

Probate Judge Marvin Lawson will determine if a patient is ready to go home during a hearing. In a traditional hearing, Judge Lawsonn and Attorney Gena Ervin would travel to the hospital and meet with a patient along with their social worker, family members, and care manager. Now, both Lawson and Ervin are able to stay in their office and video conference into those hearings.

“This is the wave of the future,” Judge Lawson said.

Conducting the hearings virtually saves time that they would have spent traveling to eight different hospitals spread out among 41 counties. Lawson said the only drawback to meeting remotely is that he cannot tell as much about a patient’s demeanor as he would be able to in person.

Attorney Gena Ervin said the tele probate system allows for more flexibility because she can connect to the hearing from her own home if she needs to.

“It turned out to be very convenient that we were able to do (tele probate) because we both ended up with a positive COVID diagnosis at the same time,” Ervin said. “But because we were doing (the hearing) virtually, I was able to do it at my house, and he could do it at his house.”

During the COVID shutdown, hearings continued because of the tele probate system. Not a single one was missed, according to Niki Chapman, a care manager for Mcleod Behavioral Health.

“The technical side of it did take some getting used to but as far as the hearing, the hearing really did not flow any differently than it did when it was in person,” Chapman said. “Once it started, it was very natural.”