On any given day, the Reading HealthPlex lobby is a blur of employees, visitors and patients walking with purpose to their destinations.
But since December, a 5-feet tall kiosk in the lobby has caused some people to pause en route to their appointments for a brief checkup of sorts, this time for a mental health assessment.
Just as blood pressure screening devices once seemed out of place in grocery stores and pharmacies, Tower Health officials hope that by placing the MindKare mental health kiosk in a public setting they can help reduce the stigma of mental health conditions, educate people about treatable conditions and recommend resources for those seeking help.
Dr. Kolin Good, chair of the department of psychiatry at Reading Hospital, said the kiosk enables someone to identify symptoms to see if they are within the range of something that needs to be taken seriously.
“It provides them with the language and the resources,” Good said.
“People often don’t know how to talk about their condition or describe what they are feeling. That is something we like about the kiosks because it allows them to describe what they are feeling.”
SCREENING FOR SIX CONDITIONS
The MindKare mental health kiosk is a freestanding computer station with a touch screen that guides the user, who remains anonymous, through a series of questions, screening for six mental health conditions: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.
The questions are available in English and Spanish, and so is the list of resources the computer can print for users who may want to see a professional in the community or get additional information about a condition.
The kiosk is a basic screening tool – not a diagnostic tool – that allows people to identify some basic symptoms and move to the next step, Good said.
“We see people using them and we’ve gotten really good feedback so far,” Good said.
75 PLACED NATIONWIDE
The kiosks are made by Screening for Mental Health Inc., a Wellesley Hills, Mass.-based nonprofit that was the driving force for National Depression Screening Day.
There are about 75 MindKare kiosks in public spaces across the country, such as libraries, community health centers and colleges and universities, including at Kutztown University.
The Montgomery County Department of Health mounted an effort last year that placed five MindKare kiosks in public venues throughout the county, such as a YMCA and Montgomery County Community College.
The kiosks are not cheap. Reading HealthPlex’s kiosk cost more than $40,000, which was paid for by the Reading Hospital Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Tower Health that supports innovation, education and research. The HealthPlex and Reading Hospital, both in West Reading, are part of Tower Health.
“One of the things we thought was key is it de-stigmatizes mental health,” said Katherine Thornton, president of the Reading Hospital Foundation, about the decision to pay for the kiosk.
“Some people are really uncomfortable discussing mental health and being treated for it. This is a way of being more comfortable by putting it in the open and being more accepting of it,” Thornton said.
The kiosks are an innovative way to use technology and have the benefit of being mobile and easy to use, she said.
PUBLIC LOCATION ALSO CONSIDERED
The foundation will evaluate whether to buy another MindKare kiosk and place it in a public location in the community after officials gather anonymous data on the number of people using the kiosks and the kinds of screenings they are taking on them.
“We’ve had a business say to us they’d be interested in putting one in a public place where their business is located,” she said.
About one in four Americans has a diagnosable mental health condition, yet most do not seek treatment.
Reading HealthPlex may be an ideal initial setting because 40 percent of patients who have chronic conditions also have mental health issues that include depression or anxiety, Good said.
The 2016 Berks County Community Health Needs Assessment identified a significant need for mental health care and chemical dependency treatment services in the region.
Clint Matthews, president and CEO of Tower Health, has said there is an urgent need for additional behavioral resources in the community.
Despite passage of the Mental Health Parity Act, access to mental health care is still difficult to obtain, either through lack of insurance coverage or difficulty finding mental health providers.
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CAMPUS
The kiosks are just one way Tower Health is increasing its mental health services, also known as behavioral health.
In December, Tower Health signed a partnership with Acadia Health, a Franklin, Tenn.-based company, to build a centralized behavioral health campus on an 82-acre parcel in Bern Township that will increase the number of inpatient beds available in the network from 40 to 144 and provide inpatient care for adolescents, adults and geriatric patients.
“We recognize the need for behavioral health as a part of our overall focus on advancing health to transforming lives,” Matthews said.
EXPANSION OF SERVICES
He said the mental health kiosks and the Acadia Health partnership – which was in development for more than a year – help Tower Health expand its capabilities to fulfill that mission.
“We presently have a 40-bed psychiatric facility at Reading Hospital and we know that is not enough,” Matthews said.
Reading Hospital will move its mental health operations to the new campus when it is built.
“We looked to partner with someone and we selected Acadia Health,” Matthews said. “All they do is behavioral health, and they do it well.”