Dena Ferrell: A Decade of Service, Leadership and Impact in Behavioral Health

Dena Ferrell, Operations Director of InSight Telepsychiatry

Over the course of a decade, the use of online health care has evolved rapidly both in popularity and technologically. Today, there is a widespread acceptance for easy access to care across the continuum through telehealth, especially with the treatment of behavioral health. Telepsychiatry has given those that have limited access to behavioral health care a chance to seek care at their convenience from any location. Dena Ferrell is no stranger to this progression. Celebrating her 10-year anniversary with the CFG Health Network and InSight Telepsychiatry this year, she has witnessed the expansion of telehealth and telepsychiatry, as well as the increased access to behavioral health treatment.

At the outset of her freshman year of college, Ferrell stepped onto the campus of Rutgers University with dreams of conquering the corporate business world. She enrolled in all of the pre-requisite classes she would need to pursue a business degree, as well as one psychology course.  Ferrell soon discovered business was not the right fit for her. She followed her gut and changed her major to what she knew she would enjoy more – psychology.

“I had some family members with mental illness and always wanted to help people in general, so it was a great fit,” said Ferrell.

Ferrell’s educational background provided the basis for what would result in a long career of service in the behavioral health field.  As InSight’s operations director, Dena is an influential and respected leader across the organization.

Ferrell’s first job out of Rutgers was at a partial care program in a community mental health center, where she worked with a small group of patients with severe and persistent mental illness in a vocational rehab setting. Ferrell continued her career in behavioral health at Newpoint Behavioral Health Care in 1995, where she spent 12 years as a New Jersey state Certified Mental Health Screener. She conducted evaluations of adults and children in emergency department (ED) psychiatric crises, consulted with psychiatrists and appropriate dispositions and provided 24 hour coverage on their suicide hotline. Newpoint was a partner of CFG and one of the first organizations to pilot telepsychiatry, so Ferrell was able to be an early telepsychiatry adopter during her work there.

“Telepsychiatry allowed me to establish a treatment plan for a crisis patient very quickly,” said Ferrell. “It was clear to me way back then that telepsychiatry was going to be a very important part in behavioral health moving forward.  Telepsychiatry was not widely used back then and it is so nice to see other programs and services utilizing it now.”

Today, Ferrell still has close ties to the team at NewPoint, who have remained a valued InSight Telepsychiatry and CFG partner since those early days.

Following her stint at Newpoint, Ferrell began her career with the CFG Health Network as an intake coordinator and ED case manager for Virtua Behavioral Health. She coordinated patient referrals to Virtua’s behavioral health unit from crisis centers, medical hospitals and clinicians, gathered all pertinent clinical, medial and demographic information and presented each case to the psychiatrist.

Overtime, Ferrell took on the role of managing CFG’s call center, the Access Center. The Access Center at that time primarily served CFG’s clients, while a small part of the call volume was dedicated to InSight Telepsychiatry, CFG’s growing telemedicine arm. However, as time passed and InSight expanded, a growing amount of the Access Center’s work was dedicated to InSight. InSight grew from serving just a few partners in surrounding states to a national operation with hundreds of partners across 28 states. Today, the Access Center is the main hub for monitoring InSight’s on-demand 24/7 telepsychiatry services.

In early 2017, the Access Center rolled-out a new telepsychiatry platform, AccessInSight. Partners generate requests via AccessInSight and cases are automatically assigned to the InSight telepsychiatry provider best suited for that interaction. AccessInSight improves efficiencies for telepsychiatry encounters and allows for advanced data tracking – certainly a big change from the Access Center’s early days!

“The technology for telepsychiatry and telehealth has improved so much since my start,” said Ferrell. “Years ago, we used large, cumbersome equipment that had to be plugged in to various outlets and at the time it was not the norm to talk to someone via video. Today the equipment is much more streamlined and a connection can be made by the click of a button.  Since many people use video in their day to day communications, it is much more accepted now.”

She expects the use of telepsychiatry will continue to grow, especially the direct to consumer services.

“Lawmakers, regulators and insurance payers are now recognizing telehealth as a covered benefit that provides a much-needed service,” said Ferrell. “It seems everyone is recognizing there are better ways of doing things, and telehealth is one of them.”

Along with the growing use of telepsychiatry in the past 10 years, Ferrell has seen growth within InSight as well. She described how InSight has become much more sophisticated in recruiting, onboarding new providers and implementing new programs. The addition of staff over the past decade has been beneficial in keeping up with the volume of partner sites and providers joining the InSight team. InSight has also smartly stayed focused on partnering with like-minded organizations that share InSight’s vision of increasing access to care.

Most people fail to realize what goes on behind the scenes, and the passion that goes into the work and dedication of providing access to behavioral health care. Ferrell’s motivation lies in knowing that in every contract InSight serves for any service line, there is a patient and their family in need of help during a very difficult time of their lives. “I am so happy to be part of that service,” said Ferrell.

Ferrell envisions a bright future for telepsychiatry. She believes the stigma for mental illnesses will decrease, and more people will be open to receiving behavioral health care both in-person and online.

Where does Ferrell see herself in the next 10 years? “I’d love to say retired! I will still be in the mental health field in some capacity.  I have a very good understanding of behavioral health needs and like using that experience to help the patients who need it most.”