BCBS gives $1.54 million to fund behavioral health program between ECU and ECSU

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina awarded $1.54 million to ECU to provide telepsychiatry services over the next five years for students at Elizabeth City State University. This partnership expands behavioral health care services at ECSU at a time when mental health concerns on college campuses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are surging. 

An estimated 1 in 4 Americans ages 18 and older has a mental disorder in any one year. The challenges associated with attending college, such as academic pressure, can trigger symptoms or cause the onset of behavioral health and substance use problems in students. Higher education institutions are uniquely positioned to provide behavioral health support for students alongside physical health, academic, professional and social services. 

“Through collaborative efforts with partners like ECU and ECSU, we’re able to expand quality behavioral health care services across the state,” said Dr. Nora Dennis, lead medical director of behavioral health and health equity at Blue Cross NC. 

The investment from Blue Cross NC bolsters the ECU-led North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program, which connects patients in hospital emergency departments and community-based settings with expert psychiatric care using telehealth technology. NC-STeP enhances access to behavioral health care, especially in North Carolina’s rural communities, such as Pasquotank County, where ECSU is. Telepsychiatry helps address the shortage of providers for patients who otherwise may not have access to services, all while reducing unnecessary hospital admissions and improving after-care and patient outcomes. 

“With this investment from Blue Cross NC, ECU will embed a behavioral health provider, linked via telepsychiatry to a clinical psychiatrist, for case consultations and care planning at the Student Health Center at ECSU,” said Dr. Sy Saeed, director of the ECU Center for Telepsychiatry and founding executive director of NC-STeP. “This resource will benefit students by improving access to behavioral health care, reducing the need for trips to the emergency department and inpatient admissions and reducing delays in diagnosis.” 

“Students need a place to share things that upset, frighten, confuse or thrill them, and these added telepsychiatry services will help us support more students directly on campus,” said Gary Brown, vice chancellor for student affairs at ECSU, which oversees the Student Health Center. “These funds will allow ECSU to expand our nurse practitioner coverage on campus from 24 to 32 hours, and NC-STeP will augment the traditional models of professional counseling and preventive services we provide to students adjusting to the demands of college life.”