Behavioral health care is essential. As the COVID pandemic swept through the county, mental health & addiction treatment service providers needed to modify the delivery of their services to adhere with Ohio’s Stay at Home Order.
To help with this, the Ohio Departments of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Medicaid implemented emergency rules to expand access to behavioral health services using telehealth. By providing care remotely, clients can continue to receive care with phone calls or through interactive videoconferencing while following social distancing guidelines.
“Telehealth is creating new opportunities on how our services can be delivered,” said John Garrity, PhD, executive director at the Mental Health & Recovery Board which funds mental health & addiction treatment and prevention services.
Fortunately, technology has become very user friendly and mobile allowing people to receive care from within their own home.
Portage’s largest mental health provider, Coleman Professional Services has provided over 1,100 services via videoconferencing since this began in mid-March.
“We quickly set-up our staff with Microsoft Teams and webcam equipment,” reported Bill Russell, Coleman’s Chief Officer for Behavioral Health in Portage County. “Our clients have found it to be a meaningful alternative to direct face to face contact and are surprised that it’s more comfortable than they initially thought.”
Another benefit Russell observed is that it allows staff members who have health risk factors to continue providing their services from remote work locations.
“If video conferencing software or equipment aren’t available to someone needing services, all of our outpatient services are still available face to face in the office,” said Russell. “While we strongly encourage all those who are able to take advantage of telehealth options, we even more strongly encourage those in need of help to come and get it however you are able – we are here, open, and accepting new clients.”
Townhall II, a substance use disorder treatment provider, is finding success integrating telehealth into their treatment services. “Many clients have shared that they are grateful for the opportunity to continue with treatment via telehealth because it removes barriers like transportation, childcare, and obviously follows the recommendation to remain at home,” said Clinical Director Rob Young.
“Clients have also reported that because they have maintained contact with their counselor, they feel less overwhelmed and more hopeful that they will be able to cope with life’s stressors without resorting to using alcohol or drugs,” Young said.
Telehealth has shown to be an important component in services delivery and Townhall II will continue to look for ways to integrate telehealth into our treatment options.
However, telehealth does create some challenges in working with children.
“Teens for the most part enjoy using telehealth as they are so used to communicating via technology anyways,” said Mary McCracken, Director of School Based Services/CPST/Risk Management at Children’s Advantage. “But for young children, sustaining their attention can be a challenge.”
“Our therapists, psychiatry staff, and case managers have found creative methods of keeping them engaged while working on skill development, therapy, and psychiatric needs,” McCracken said.
(Pictured below: Children's Advantage therapist Kelli Swigeart engaging with a client during a video session)
“We also want to work with parents and other caregivers as they are key leaders in helping develop strong mental health skills in their children.”
Serving clients remotely has been quite a change for the home-based family therapy team at Family & Community Services. Before the Stay at Home order, a team of therapists and case managers would work with families and caregivers in their homes.
“The adjustment to telehealth was awkward at first, but now most of our families are responding well,” said Cara Michalak, behavioral therapist. “During a session, we may first start out speaking to each family member separately over the phone, and then end with a group conference call.”
Michalak noted that they are missing being able to observe clients home lives with their own eyes, but since the transition to telehealth they have been able to serve more families now since they aren’t driving to people’s homes. This frees them up to spend more of their time in counseling sessions.
All of the agencies are accepting new patients. To schedule an appointment call: Coleman Professional Services at 330-296-3555, Children’s Advantage at 330-296-5552, Family & Community Services at 330-297-7027, and Townhall II at 330-678-3006.