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Cal Poly grads create program that links mental health specialists, offer better care to patients

Posted at 10:24 AM, Aug 05, 2020

A new start-up company in San Luis Obispo is helping mental health providers better serve patients, including a rush of new patients looking for relief from pandemic-related anxiety.

Camille Johnson, who sees patients in San Luis Obispo, said her practice is nearly at capacity.

"I'm on the fuller side right now, even people I'd want to work with right now, I have to refer out," Johnson said.

The demand for mental health services is growing faster than practitioners like Johnson can personally take on.

The increase in people seeking care and the general lack of providers on the Central Coast is what inspired Bridge.

"This market has been overlooked and under-served for so long," Bridge Co-founder Ryan Murtaugh said.

Bridge is a collaborative web-based tool that connects mental health providers through a secure social media style program.

Johnson, who utilizes the service, said it helps her place patients with specialists who are specifically trained in certain focuses.

"I'm well aware that I have my scope and expertise but there are a ton of other issues that come in that are not in my desire or way of practicing," Johnson said.

For providers like Johnson, finding the right specialist may take hours of calls, precious time that strapped providers just don't have.

After learning about the problem through friends and personal experience, Murtaugh and Nathan Brickman decided to take a closer look.

"Last summer, Ryan and I sat in upwards of 25 therapy and counseling offices here in SLO," Brickman said.

They learned about the communication challenges faced by providers who, according to Murtaugh, were using Facebook groups to consult with other mental health providers.

The two recent Cal Poly grads took the information they gathered, assembled a team, and began writing code for the platform. They currently operate out of the Hot House on Higuera Street.

"With Bridge, professionals can consult with one another and create really accurate referrals for their clients," Murtaugh said.

Johnson is one of seven providers currently utilizing the system. Murtaugh and Brickman expect over 150 more to join by the fall.

"Just really trying to increase access to mental health services for the professionals themselves to direct clients to the right resources right away," Brickman said.

Bridgeis currently exclusive to providers but future development of the program will allow patients to seek out a specialized provider who accepts their insurance.

The founders of bridge hope to expand the program statewide and eventually across the country.