For many of us, the doors to our familiar routines have been inconveniently closed for the last two weeks. For others, however, the public-health crisis and resulting economic shutdown threaten to sever ties to a lifeline. Mental-health professionals in Door County are taking steps to hold those threads together.
Door County Health and Human Services provides mental-health services to approximately 55 people who have significant mental illness, according to the department’s director, Joe Krebsbach. With social distancing the new law of the land, the in-person sessions that are normally required to provide the care that these individuals need is, for now, the exception rather than the rule.
Krebsbach said his department has quickly transitioned to providing services by phone or Skype that, until recently, had been offered in person.
“If it’s significant enough to see in person, we do that. But there aren’t many,” he said.
Counseling Associates moved to telehealth services Monday. In the counseling world, that’s a big step. When Gov. Tony Evers announced the stay-home order, the state also had to approve a measure for Medicare reimbursements to cover telehealth services. Previously, the county or a private provider could receive reimbursement only for in-office care, in part because telehealth presents issues with HIPAA compliance and privacy laws.
Psychotherapist William Nick, owner of Counseling Associates, said he anticipates that telehealth won’t work for all of his patients.
“I’m anticipating there are some people who won’t be able to use that due to not having high-speed internet,” he said.
Local Alcoholics Anonymous groups are adjusting as well. The 115 Club has a new Facebook page, and groups are offering Skype or videoconferences in place of meetings.
Nick and Krebsbach are especially concerned about patients who are in the early stages of treatment.
“I have concerns about people who haven’t taken that first step, and now they face it at a time when it’s less clear, when it feels like all health providers are pulling back,” Nick said. “People may be delaying care. We’re not pulling back; we’re just trying to [maintain] everyone’s space.”
People who need help aren’t being left on their own. Counselors are doing proactive outreach calls to patients and working with other organizations to expand connections.
“There are churches doing check-ins, and we’ve told them that if they feel someone needs another level of care, we’ll help them,” Krebsbach said.
Concerns about hospital capacity trickle down to Krebsbach’s department as well. With hospitals enacting more restrictions to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, it may be harder to admit patients to a psychiatric hospital.
“If they had symptoms, it would be hard for us to get them in right now,” he said. “So we’re figuring out what precautions we would need to take to make sure that they’re safe and others are safe.”
Door County Health and Human Services Desk: 920.746.7155
Crisis Line: 920.746.2588
Counseling Associates: 920.743.9554
Bay Counseling: 920.743.4428
Alcoholics Anonymous: Find meeting details at doorcountyaa.org and additional information at the 115 Club on Facebook. To receive assistance, call Jeff at 920.559.2500 or Brian at 920.256.0769.