Between the COVID-19 pandemic, racial tensions, a historic election among other stress-inducing events, 2020 has put behavioral health services in higher demand than ever before. Isolation, uncertainty, loss and fear have become all too familiar, and in many cases, anxiety, depression and substance use have been intensified. This is especially true for individuals who have preexisting behavioral health issues.
Despite an array of challenges, dedicated and passionate providers continue to give hope to their communities through quality, person-centered care every day. And many of these providers can be found at Seven Counties Services in Kentucky. With more than 26 locations across the state and over 85 unique programs designed for behavioral health, developmental disabilities and addictions, Seven Counties Services works to help children, families and adults reach their full potential.
A year of challenges
Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic widely affected Seven Counties Services and its surrounding communities, racial tensions have played a large role in their current climate. After the tragic death of local 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Seven Counties Services and the communities they serve were faced with even more grievance, anxiety and a heightened need for behavioral health outreach.
2020 has had its fair share of challenges and adversities, but the organization never faltered from supporting and serving their community, often for clients in their most vulnerable positions. A large component of their care continuum during this time stems from technology and virtual care options.
New approaches to care delivery
When COVID-19 first surfaced, Seven Counties Services quickly pivoted to virtual services, with 80% of their staff transitioning to a remote setting in just two weeks. Therapists, psychiatrists and some case managers began conducting telemedicine appointments to help eliminate exposure and abide by social distancing protocols. Although virtual services were viable for many, some Seven Counties Services clients didn’t have access to the technology necessary for a telemedicine appointment. In order to continue serving those in need, the organization provides resources and training to clients in need.
“Before COVID-19, we only had about two psychiatrists doing telemedicine,” President & CEO, Abby Drane, CPA, MBA, said. “We’ve seen a total transition. Without technology, we would not have been able to communicate with people and meet their needs during this pandemic.”
Drane said some virtual service options are likely to continue after COVID-19 is at bay. Telemedicine holds several benefits to both the providers and the clients, as it helps eliminate transportation barriers, scheduling conflicts and risk of missed appointments. Receiving care virtually also helps address some of the discomfort people may feel when coming to an in-person appointment. Speaking with a therapist or addiction specialist in the comfort of their own home helps people maintain their privacy if they wish.
“While no one should ever feel ashamed of getting mental health care, not everyone feels totally comfortable parking their car and walking in to get help,” Drane said. “Virtual care makes mental health services a lot more accessible to people. Someone who needs help, but may not have felt comfortable going in, can now get the care they need from home.”
Applications such as Zoom and Skype have played a role in Seven Counties Services’ residential programs to help children living in congregate care communicate and connect with their family and loved ones. The organization serves 150 children between the ages of 6-17 in residential housing. COVID-19 has caused them to be isolated, therefore virtual meetings help them stay connected and supported.
“Community is the most important thing to our clients,” Vice President of External Affairs and Advancement, Reylene Robinson, said. “We want them to feel like they belong, because they absolutely do. Staying connected and continuing community outreach through the pandemic is a big part of this.”
Extending community support
While technology helps bridge gaps in care, there are other challenges providers such as Seven Counties Services face that cannot always be resolved by virtual care options. Seven Counties Services staff maintain crisis lines that individuals can call for immediate help. Calls have been down this year, which sounds like a good thing. However, crisis levels have lowered. If people are not calling in to report a volatile situation or ask for help, they may be in an abusive home where reaching out may no longer be an option due to stay-at-home mandates.
“If an abuser is at home and the child or other family member isn’t able to leave because of the pandemic, they may not have an opportunity to ask for help without the abuser knowing,” Drane said. “We have not yet seen what is going to come about once these individuals in need are reconnected to the community. Our staff is gearing up for when this day comes.”
In hopes of continuing to reach individuals in dangerous or abusive homes while the community is physically apart, Seven Counties Services has put out media spotlights to spread community resources and awareness. Public service announcement-style messages encourage people to contact a community provider if they need help and instruct others to keep a watch on their neighbor during this time of isolation, followed by a number to call or website to visit for more information.
Additionally, Seven Counties Services gave the Louisville Metro Police Department nearly 1,000 crisis cards, which responding officers carry with them and hand out the contact information to people as needed. Often times when law enforcement arrives on the scene, the individual needs behavioral health assistance, not police intervention. Officers can encourage the individual to call the number on the card, where Seven Counties Services can either provide direct services or triage to another local behavioral health provider.
Moving forward, together
Despite what seems to be a year of relentless hardships, the Kentucky-based organization and its surrounding communities have shown notable resilience and hope for the future. County residents have come together like never before, only further proving their compassion, support and love for one another.
“These hardships have only brought us closer,” Drane said. “It’s forced the behavioral health community to respond. Almost 100% of the population is affected by the pandemic and these racial tensions. It’s brought to the forefront how important behavioral health services are.”
Just as this year has brought heightened stress, oftentimes the holidays can have a similar effect on individuals experiencing mental health challenges. Seven Counties Services encourages individuals to take a step back this holiday season and reflect on what this year has taught us and how we can grow from it. Take advantage of this quiet time to practice self-care, check on your loved ones and remind yourself that negative emotions are temporary.
If you or someone you know is experiencing heightened mental health issues, including addiction or suicidal ideation, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. Call 502-589-4313. for immediate professional assistance.
And most importantly, remember you are not alone.
“People with behavioral health issues are not different than anyone else,” Drane said. “In fact, a lot of professionals in the field come from lived experience. There are resources out there in every way – reach out and grab them.”
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