Social service agencies seek to serve substance abuse, mental health clients during COVID-19 | Coronavirus

Ken Hedler

Nonprofit agencies that serve people recovering from substance abuse and those who have mental illnesses are trying to meet the needs of their clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And because of the requirements for social distancing, the agencies have scheduled appointments with their clients through telehealth — over the phone or through video conferencing — instead of in person, they said.

“The people are not adverse to (telehealth),” said Linda Oyer, CEO of the East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. “They embrace that a little bit more.

“It cuts down barriers because they do not have the money to drive for a visit or take the bus,” Oyer said. “Across the state, that is what they are doing.”

Oyer said ETCADA also has seen an increased volume of calls from clients seeking state-funded treatment such as detox and inpatient and outpatient treatment since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March. ETCADA serves 23 counties with offices in Longview, Tyler, Pittsburg and Paris and has a staff of six counselors.

ETCADA fielded 270 calls in February, 290 in March and 375 in April as of lunchtime Wednesday, she said.

“We are seeing an increase in people calling for assistance,” Oyer said. “Personally, I think people are fearful of this type of crisis. And, so, for a lot of people, it is a wake-up call.”

Unlike ETCADA, Community Healthcore has not seen an increase in demand for services since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, said Patti Brady, community development specialist. She said the caseload has not increased because a number of referrals have come from schools, which have been closed, and from hospitals, which have been seeing fewer patients in part because of a ban on elective surgeries that was not lifted until Wednesday.

Brady said service coordinators and case managers call clients daily to check on them.

Her colleague Amy Hill, program director of mental health outpatient, said in a statement she has not seen an increase in calls for intake/crisis for adults.

Community Healthcore and ETCADA contract with Avail Solutions, a Tyler-based after-hours hotline.

Community Healthcore provides mental health services and operates the East Texas Veterans Resource Center at 501 Pine Tree Road. The center offers help with reintegration into civilian life, marital/family issues, financial/legal assistance, treatment from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, depression, housing and education and job training.

The Overton Brooks VA Medical Center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Shreveport has not seen an increased demand for services since the pandemic arrived, VA spokesman Shannon Arledge said in a statement. The VA operates a community-based outpatient clinic at 1005 N. Eastman Road, Longview.

However, he said Overton Brooks is working to ensure continuity in mental health care and suicide prevention services while veterans are not allowed to visit facilities and face added stress because of COVID-19.

The VA clinical and social work staff are ready to help veterans facing homelessness, employment issues or “any other type of socioeconomic setback,” he said.

He said Overton Brooks staff members are being educated on options for maintaining engagement with at-risk veterans and transitioning veterans to virtual physical and mental health care.

Oceans Behavioral Hospital at 615 Clinic Drive in Longview has responded to COVID-19 by remaining open for inpatient and outpatient care while operating under the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for screening, testing and infection control, Oceans said in a written statement.

Oceans operates a 24-bed inpatient facility for adults 40 and older. Oceans also has expanded its telehealth options during the pandemic.

After the pandemic ends, both Oyer at ETCADA and Brady at Community Healthcore said they expect to see more demand for services.

“We really expect a spike afterward, after everything goes back to normal,” Oyer said. She said she expects assaults and family violence to increase, because they are closely associated with substance abuse.

“This is an exceptional situation that nobody in our age group has experienced,” Oyer said. “This is a very scary time for a lot of people.”

Brady said she expects demand to increase in May or June, but she said Community Healthcore will be up to the challenge.

“Right now, we are doing everything we can,” Brady said. “We just want the community to know that we are here to support them.”

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