Physician Practice

Case study: The first early psychosis intervention clinic in New Orleans

Medical Environment Update, May 13, 2021

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by Brian Ward

Back in 2015, New Orleans’ first-ever clinic specializing in psychosis treatment and care was opened. The Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic-New Orleans (EPIC-NOLA) was the idea of Ashley Weiss, DO, MPH, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Tulane University School of Medicine. She and her team sought to provide sustainable, high-quality, first-episode psychosis (FEP) services to the underserved New Orleans community, which struggles with both poverty and poor access to care.

By making connections with other local healthcare organizations and state agencies, EPIC-NOLA has been able to treat hundreds of patients, regardless of their insurance status, with better outcomes than other care models. EPIC-NOLA’s results and implementation were written about in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, in which study authors wrote that “although early financial analysis revealed an immediate threat to viability, EPIC-NOLA found clinical success in launching a first-episode psychosis service in an underserved area.”

Out of the 50 states, Louisiana ranks 50th for per-capita funding for community mental health services and 46th in access to general medical services. A full 27% of Orleans Parish residents live below the poverty line, with a median income of $36,792. There are also many stressors in the community, such as violence, abuse, and discrimination, which negatively impact mental health. Further complicating matters is a local stigma against mental illness, particularly against psychosis patients.

The clinic also faced financial challenges, finding that many of the services they provided—like case management and family education—aren’t covered under local insurance. Finding a state or community organization willing to fund the unbillable services was a major roadblock for the program as well.

Founding the clinic

Weiss is an Alabama native who did much of her schooling and training in New Orleans, going to Loyola University for her undergrad and Tulane University for her master’s degree in public health. Specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry, she says she developed an interest in treating schizophrenia patients in college.

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