By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County is boosting its broadband Internet capabilities now that it’s offering tele-psychiatric consultations.
Faced with a shortage of local psychiatrists, the Essex County Mental Health Department is contracting with Syracuse University for psychiatric services via video link at a cost of $14,000, plus $1,200 for equipment.
County Mental Health Director Steve LaValley said their part-time psychiatrist left at the end of June.
“We have had the position posted since then without any kind of response whatsoever. We have advertised the position. I have done a lot of outreach to local providers and resources without getting any kind of a response.”
A company called Forefront TeleCare of Emeryville, Calif., will provide the equipment and technical services, Valley said.
“These will be consultations that will be provided to local primary-care physicians and all the health centers around the county and allow us to give some support and provide some services. These will be billable services, so once we see the folks for the consultations we will be able to bill Medicaid or insurance.”
The budgeted funds that would have paid the part-time psychiatrist to the end of the year will be used for the tele-psychiatry instead, he said.
At the same time, the county is switching one of its Internet providers, from AT&T to Westelcom, for a monthly charge of about $1,000.
County Manager Daniel Palmer said AT&T provides only about 3 megabytes of bandwidth, compared with 30 megabytes from Westelcom. The number refers to how much data can be moved over the connection in one second, although real-world speeds are usually somewhat less.
Palmer said the provider change will be less, since the AT&T price is about $1,200 a month. AT&T used existing copper wiring, Palmer said, while Westelcom has much faster fiber-optic lines.
The county also has Internet service from Charter Cable and Verizon.
“ I absolutely insist that we have to have more than one vendor,” Palmer said. “The reason you have to have split service is because if one goes down you have to switch over to the other in order to keep the county whole. You never can put all your Internet services into one basket because the county will be down for sure.”
Departments like Mental Health, Emergency Services, the Enhanced-911 center, Sheriff’s Department and others are heavy users of Internet service, officials said.
“Every department uses more and more bandwidth,” Palmer said. “When we are talking about maps and talking about all these additional services that we are providing, what drives that is bandwidth.”
County Real Property Tax Services is about to start charging for enhanced data services that will include the ability to download printable tax maps. For $40 a month or $360 a year, subscribers can print tax maps and view property sales in the county. The property sales data will be updated weekly.
The maps and basic information will still be viewable for free.
The County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved all the requests.
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