Virginia Telemental Health Initiative offers free teletherapy to underinsured Virginians

Uninsured and underinsured Virginians now have access to free virtual mental healthcare statewide through the Virginia Telemental Health Initiative (VTMHI). Qualifying patients can be referred to online counseling services through Virginia’s system of free clinics. 

The Virginia Telemental Health Initiative has been supplying free online mental healthcare to a limited number of these clinics in a pilot phase since 2022. It began with seven partnering clinics; by the end of the year, it will have 40 partners across the state.

“I don't think it's any surprise that nationally, we have a mental health provider shortage, and that, of course, exists in Virginia, and it's pretty pervasive, particularly in the rural parts of our state,” Robin Cummings, deputy adviser for strategy and quality at VTMHI, told Fierce Healthcare. 

The program is also a combination workforce development program for residents completing the patient visit hours required for their degrees. Residents can volunteer for a six-month minimum commitment to the free online mental health clinic, and the time they spend doing patient visits help them get their degrees faster, Cummings said. There are 75 volunteers in the pre-licensed stage, and all trainees are supervised by a licensed clinician.

When patients are referred to free mental health services, they are matched with a mental health provider and typically follow a treatment plan of 10 visits. 

VTMHI aims to be an integrated behavioral health service provider while keeping the free clinic as the patient’s medical home. Moreover, patients who struggle with technology or lack reliable internet with which to do a telehealth visit can complete the visit in the free clinic with technical assistance from staff. 

Virtual mental health providers can also connect patients with local crisis support.