There are many interesting things about InnovaTel Telepsychiatry – including its unique blend of healthcare and technology. But what struck me when I was learning about the business is how it could operate anywhere, yet its leaders deliberately are choosing to stay in Erie.

If you’ve never heard of InnovaTel, that’s understandable. After all, the company is based here, but it serves clients in eight states – and most of its employees don’t live here, either.

InnovaTel provides telepsychiatric care – meaning it brings together psychiatrists and clinics, no matter their location, and links them remotely through a secure video platform. The company was started by Jon Evans and Lee Penman, who both worked at Hamot and who both later helped to found Erie’s Safe Harbor Behavioral Health.

InnovaTel, their new enterprise, reflects their continued commitment to providing quality mental health care, but adds a 21st century update.

As Evans and Penman explain, there is a shortage of psychiatrists across the country, a problem that is felt most acutely in rural areas. Telepsychiatry allows those underserved areas – rural, urban and everything in between – to more easily offer mental health care to residents.

The business, now about four years old, is growing as it becomes more established – and, as Penman says, as people are getting more used to the idea of telepsychiatry and telemedicine in general.

Part of that growth is coming from an expansion into correctional psychiatry – that is, forensic evaluations and mental health care done in correctional settings, like jails. It’s just another way of enhancing care while lowering costs – a combination that InnovaTel is confident will drive future success.

That brings me back to my main takeaway from this company: A growing company that can operate from anywhere, but one that is planting roots firmly in Erie County.

According to InnovaTel’s leaders, that’s not just an emotional decision, but a practical one. As Evans describes, Erie is a “hidden asset,” where the cost of doing business is significantly less than in other cities. In fact, they see the potential for Erie to become a hub of technology and health care.

“Our goal is to really grow this company and stay here,” Evans says.

About InnovaTel Telepsychiatry: The company is making a name for itself in the telemedicine industry – it has been named a strategic partner with the National Council for Behavioral Health, and it was recently ranked as one of the 10 most promising telemedicine providers by Healthcare Tech Outlook magazine. InnovaTel now has 30 psychiatrists on its roster, and it has partnered with more than 40 clinics – and more interest comes in every week. As a telemedicine company, InnovaTel’s focus must be on the technology as well as the health care. The company is very thorough in ensuring the quality of the video and audio connections – which are secure links to a licensed facility – and also to creating a comfortable atmosphere, which includes the lighting of the walls, the color of the room, and the placement of the TV at a patient’s eye level.

Why Erie County: As previously mentioned, InnovaTel’s leaders have found a benefit in the low overhead costs in Erie County. In addition, however, they found it beneficial to launch their business in Erie, where they already had connections in the community through their previous work.

Challenges of Erie County: InnovaTel’s remote nature requires that the Erie staff make site visits, so travel into and out of Erie – including at the airport – can be a challenge. Another challenge that has less to do with Erie County but nevertheless is a hurdle for the company comes from licensing requirements. InnovaTel’s psychiatrists must receive licensing from multiple states – and each state has different procedures and requirements. Evans says that given the increasing popularity of telemedicine, it might be time to explore the idea of a national licensing standard.

Fun fact: Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a mental health advocate and son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, is a member of InnovaTel Telepsychiatry’s advisory board.

Address: 2005 W. Eighth St., Erie, PA 16505 or www.intelpsych.com