FOR RELEASE: Oct. 3, 2006

GALVESTON, Texas —The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston recently was awarded a $500,000 matching grant to bring adolescent behavioral health services to the Galveston Independent School District (GISD) via medical two-way video conferencing systems. The grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is matched by funding from six Galveston and Houston foundations.

To implement the project, UTMB installed a state-of-the-art videoconferencing workstation in the Teen Health Clinic at Ball High School in Galveston, and the university will soon install these workstations in clinics at Galveston’s Weis, Central and Austin Middle Schools. The technology enables UTMB psychiatric specialists to consult with students and their parents via telemedicine.

UTMB has used this technology for psychiatric consultations since 1999 and is known as one of the nation’s leaders in what is called “telepsychiatry.” During a telemedicine consultation, a physician in an office at UTMB can see and hear a patient at a remote location through a flat-panel television screen and, likewise, the patient can see and hear the doctor in real time through a television screen on-site.

“We are excited about extending telepsychiatry to local teens, as we work to help them overcome the problems that may otherwise affect their ability to succeed,” says Dr. Christopher Thomas, UTMB professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the consulting psychiatrist on the project. Thomas will focus on diagnosing and treating depression, anxiety and eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other behavioral problems.

The grant to bring telepsychiatry to local junior high and high school students was awarded through RWJF’s Local Initiative Funding Partners (LIFP) program, one of the Foundation’s most competitive annual grantmaking programs. The telepsychiatry project is one of only 12 projects funded this year out of a national pool of 219 applications to the LIFP program. UTMB’s local funding partners for the matching grant are the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund, Dr. Leon Bromberg Charitable Trust Fund, The Jamail Galveston Foundation, The Moody Foundation, The Mary Moody Northern Endowment and Rockwell Fund, Inc.

“This grant is a tribute to the forward-looking foundations that have supported this worthwhile initiative,” says Dr. John D. Stobo, UTMB president. “They recognized this project as an opportunity to use UTMB’s technology and expertise to serve local teens.”

“We are truly delighted to have led this cooperative effort of Galveston and Houston foundations to promote the mental health of our youth,” says Dr. Barbara Sasser, president of the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund, which nominated the university for the LIFP award.

Thomas says the project team expects the new psychiatric services to reduce rates of drug use and violent behavior in the schools. According to the Galveston Children’s Report Card for 2004—a survey of benchmarks for children’s health and wellbeing—51 percent of local high school students used alcohol in the month before the survey, compared to the national rate of 45 percent. About 6 percent of Galveston’s high school students have used methamphetamines, 3 percent have used heroin and 9 percent have used cocaine.

“UTMB and the local public schools are long-time partners in the effort to keep children healthy, and this grant allows us to deepen our level of service,” says Dr. Ben Raimer, UTMB vice president for community outreach and project director.

UTMB has collaborated with Teen Health Center, Inc., since its inception in 1986, staffing four campus clinics that provide students with preventive and primary health and mental health care, health education and health referrals. The new telepsychiatry component is in addition to counseling already offered at the clinics.

Teens needing treatment will be referred to the psychiatrist by staff members at the Teen Health Clinics, based on a request by a student, parent or guardian, or on concerns of the clinic’s primary care team.
The University of Texas Medical Branch
Public Affairs Office
301 University Boulevard, Suite 3.102
Galveston, Texas 77555-0144