Mind and Body/Opinion

Group teletherapy offered as answer to unmet mental health needs

New startup, Orka, seeks to build an innovative platform that tackles cost, stigma and access

Courtesy of Orka website

An image from the Female Founder Group teletherapy session on Orka’s website, which explores issues and struggles that are unique to women "chasing the dream in a man’s world," under the guidance of a licensed clinician.

By Gabriel Fine
Posted 4/29/19
A new health care startup, Orka, proposes to create a network of affordable group teletherapy options to address the growing surge in the demand for mental health services, as a way to overcome the barriers of cost, stigma and location.
Can the value of peer recovery coaches be applied to a broader spectrum of mental health and behavioral issues? Would current mental health providers be willing to collaborate or sub-contract with Orka as a way to offer services to their clients? How will issues of diversity and health equity be addressed through teletherapy sessions? How do teletherapy sessions differ from telemedicine sessions?
On May 1, the Washington County Coalition for Children will host its 17th annual Issues Day forum, which will feature a national expert, Laura Porter, to talk about how to build resilient communities in the face of adverse childhood experiences. Porter, from ACE Interface, works with leaders in more than 30 states to build what are known as “Self-Healing Communities.”
In addition to delivering the keynote address, entitled: “The Magnitude of the Solution,” Porter will lead a free, four-hour workshop following forum, “When the Culture Heals.” Registration is required for both the forum and the workshop. Visit www.washcokids.org for more information.

Editors Note: It is no secret that Rhode Island is experiencing a surge in mental health and behavioral health issues, for both adults and children.

Not only is the demand for services surging, but the ability of the mental health treatment systems to respond has been challenging, because the network of services tend to be fragmented and crisis-driven, with disproportionate spending on high-end care and often a lack of adequate investment in prevention and community-based services – as well as health inequities around social disparities of race and wealth.

A new health entrepreneurial startup venture, Orka, is developing a platform to make behavioral health services more accessible and affordable through group teletherapy. In the following piece, Gabriel Fine, operations and growth lead for the company, lays out the value proposition for the firm.

In publishing this story, ConvergenceRI is not endorsing Orka or any of its products. Rather, ConvergenceRI is seeking to encourage conversation around potential innovative approaches to behavioral and mental health care.

PROVIDENCE – We are in the eye of a mental health hurricane. Though things are improving slightly, they are not improving anywhere near fast enough. Last year 56 percent of Americans who were diagnosed with mental illness did not have access to regular behavioral health care. One out of every two Americans who had enough access to health care to be diagnosed with a mental illness could not seek regular help.

These are the numbers of a crisis, and it is one that has existed long enough that most of us accept it as normal.

But normal and functional do not seem to be strongly correlated in America. Is it normal for one-eighth of emergency room visits to be people in the midst of catastrophic mental health episodes? Is it normal for nearly half of the people shot by police to be people with mental illness? Is it also normal for Americans with health insurance to have to decide between mental health care, food, rent, and childcare?

Turning a blind eye
Many of those who are aware of the situation often turn a blind eye. In the midst of fighting to make sure Americans have access to any health care, not enough people have the time or energy to be looking at how to help those around us heal from and exist within a broken system.

In Rhode Island, the world of mental health care is no better. We fall squarely in the middle of state mental health accessibility outcomes. We regularly make small commitments to improvement, generally motivated by specific dire crises, such as the opioid epidemic.

While these improvements are laudable, they are not enough. Anecdotal reports tell of wait lists longer than three months to see a psychiatrist for patients whose need for psychiatric medication is deemed “non-emergent.”

Furthermore, most psychiatrists don’t accept insurance. What kind of system do we have if we only mitigate emergencies? How can we expect to care for Rhode Islanders if we are not building the basic foundations of an accessible preventative mental health care paradigm?

Cost, stigma, location

So, what really stops us in Rhode Island and in America from having a sensible preventive mental health care paradigm? Three things: cost, stigma, and location.

In polling Americans on what kept them from accessing mental health care, the number-one issue was cost. Disastrous but understandable. With 70 percent of Americans earning $50,000 or less and the average hour of therapy costing between $75-$100, it is no wonder that more than half the people in need of mental health care can’t access it.

To make matters worse, mental health care coverage is increasingly left out of the fastest-growing insurance segment, high deductible health plans.

Compounding the affordability issue, for many people, driving or taking a bus 45 minutes in the opposite direction of their employment is just not feasible when they are already working 9,10, or 11 hours a day.

In turn, this contributes to the pervasive stigma against mental health issue in many communities. Because so many lack access and those who use mental health services often only engage after emergent episodes, many communities don’t see mental health care as preventative health care at all.

Only headaches, no answers

Unfortunately, looking at the problem the traditional way yields only headaches and no answers. This is why the behavioral health space is among the fastest growing areas for innovation. People realize that the market needs to change.

In the past two years, we have seen a plethora of new companies trying to turn the current paradigm on its head. In their rush to create the change, they often leave essential pillars out of their products. Some products sacrifice face-to-face relationships and others sacrifice fair wages for providers in an attempt to bring “disruptive innovation” to mental health care.

At Orka, our mission is to make behavioral health accessible to everyone and embrace collaboration. We offer group teletherapy as an affordable option to anyone.

We imagine a Rhode Island in which preventative behavioral health care is a value and right. We believe that we need to make behavioral health an essential piece of preventative care for every Rhode Islander, or else we will forever be stuck in the eye of the mental health hurricane, and never make it to the clear skies of a functional and equitable system.

Editor's Note: As a result of a merger and acquisition development, the name of the firm changed to Okra, and the story has been updated to reflect that.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

© convergenceri.com | subscribe | contact us | report problem | About | Advertise

powered by creative circle media solutions

Join the conversation

Want to get ConvergenceRI
in your inbox every Monday?

Type of subscription (choose one):

We will contact you with subscription details.

Thank you for subscribing!

We will contact you shortly with subscription details.