By Sally McMahon
We have heard from many healthcare organizations this month about their response to the COVID-19 crisis. Most behavioral health organizations are also rethinking how they operate in order to better serve their clients. We talked to David Weathersby, chief operating officer at Seven Counties Services, previously Centerstone, on their response. Highlights are below.
Medical News: How is Seven Counties Services adjusting from an operational standpoint?
David Weathersby: Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, we
were doing 95 percent in person services and five percent telehealth. Now
we are doing 90 percent telehealth services. So, it has been a total
redesign from the point of entry into services and to how we deliver our
services. We moved 800 providers into telehealth very quickly and had to
get them trained and to get them the equipment and software needed.
Because our staff are incredibly passionate about the services we provide, it
has been overwhelmingly successful.
MN: Substance Used Disorder (SUD) doesn’t stop because of a pandemic. How are you all continuing to serve your clients?
DW: Yes, it’s a tragic time because during this crisis, we’ve seen an uptick in substance usage and overdoses. We are fighting two life threatening illnesses – the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic at the same time. For outpatient, we have moved as many services as possible to telehealth, and it is working to stabilize those in need virtually. For those needing detox and residential, we have had to lower census to meet social distancing requirements, but we are maintaining about 60 percent of occupancy. We hope as the pandemic recedes, and restrictions are lifted, we will to be able to increase detox admissions proportionately.
MN: What did that transition process look like?
DW: Over a four-week timeframe, we quickly transitioned most staff from site based to telehealth. It began with training and then week by week, we moved more staff online to be able to offer telehealth. This included bringing school-based staff back to work, even though schools are closed. We have tried to be creative and placed our staff in areas where they can help the most clients. Also, we tried to stay up to date with the Cabinet implementing emergency regulations so that both Medicaid and Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) services could be provided by telehealth.
MN: What lessons have you learned from this process?
DW: Both clients and staff are resilient and flexible and both have worked together to make this transition successful. We had been hesitant to move to telehealth and this crisis forced us to transition quickly, and our staff and clients have embraced the challenge; more of our clients have access to the internet and technology than we would have thought and have embraced online support; we have seen a large increase in crisis calls, people who have never called us before are now calling needing immediate help. We expect this trend to continue, as people solve their immediate needs, such as food and shelter, the next crisis on the horizon will be stabilizing their mental health; and when we all work together, we can get through this.