How Minnesota Treatment Providers and People in Recovery Have Been Impacted by COVID-19 (And How They Believe Things Will Be Different)

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We reached out to Minnesota substance disorder providers, treatment centers and mental health professions—as well as people in recovery to hear how COVID-19 has affected them and how it will affect them after the virus has passed. Below are their response with minor edits from our team. We want to thank them for their responses. 

FROM PROVIDERS

How has COVID-19 affected your organization? 

Molly Gilbert
Vinland

We have implemented masks for all staff and clients, frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and more intensive screening for health when bringing in new clients to both our residential as well as our outpatient programs.

Only our outpatient facility has switched over to telemedicine; our residential facility continues to work in the same manner as before, though we have spaced seating in the group rooms so that each client is 6 feet apart from the next. We’ve also put ‘x’s on the floor for those waiting in line for meals, so they are reminded to stay 6 feet apart from each other. We’ve placed hand cleaning gel at various points throughout the buildings so both clients and staff have immediate access if needed.

We have also posted our procedural response to COVID-19 on the front page of our website.

Brian Zirngible, LMFT

I am a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and am currently only seeing clients with secure and confidential online therapy. I haven’t decided yet when I will start to see clients face-to-face in my office, but am following the CDC, WHO and the MN Dept. of Health very closely with updates.

Kate Lehmann, LADC

I’m a solo private practice substance use professional serving individuals and families with assessments, individual therapy, and recovery support.

I am now conducting all sessions via secure telehealth. It generally works pretty well but it is more challenging and more tiring for me. I don’t anticipate switching back to in-person sessions for some time to come as I think it would be even more challenging to wear masks while engaged in therapy sessions. I’d rather see people’s faces on the computer screen.

Jeremiah Gardner
Hazelden Betty Ford

By leveraging our existing telehealth solutions, highlighting free community-based online resources, and aggressively implementing new virtual services to complement our on-site care, we have been able to continue meeting the urgent needs of people in Minnesota and throughout the nation. Throughout the pandemic, we have admitted new patients every day in a number of different settings and levels of care.

Ironically, we had been planning a major launch into virtual outpatient services for about a year under our telehealth brand RecoveryGo (see press release and RecoveryGo.org). So, when the pandemic hit, we were able to quickly accelerate and expand our plans.

In just over a week’s time, we transitioned about 1,300 people nationally who were in our on-site outpatient programs to our new, secure virtual platform. A week later, we began accepting new patients directly into virtual services. Today, six weeks since our launch, we have served well over 3,000 patients nationally in virtual, insurance-eligible outpatient addiction treatment and mental health services.

Our intensive outpatient admissions are actually up 17% nationally, and that’s been possible because of our new virtual services and other RecoveryGo telehealth solutions.

In addition, we now have a new, virtual one-day program for family members of people who are struggling with addiction or new in recovery, and at this time, we are offering it at no cost to anyone anywhere in the world. Online registration is available now at RecoveryGo.org.

We also made several of our most popular mobile recovery apps, including Twenty Four Hours a Day, free during this time and have significantly expanded the number of support meetings available online at our website TheDailyPledge.org.

We’re studying the outcomes of our virtual services through the Butler Center for Research, and integrating this work into our graduate school and the consultation we provide to others.

Thanks to many new safeguards at Hazelden Betty Ford’s residential and recovery housing sites, we also still continue to serve many people who need those higher levels of care and support. Our safeguards (temperature and other symptom checks, masks and much more) now include COVID-19 tests for incoming patients to help ensure the virus is not coming into our facilities. We have a National Incident Command Center that coordinates with a cross-functional task force of Hazelden Betty Ford leaders from across the country, and has been guiding the organization’s response since early March.

This is a historic evolution in addiction treatment, and the pandemic has propelled it forward much more quickly than anyone could have anticipated.

After seven decades of providing addiction treatment, we’re excited to be reaching more people, families and communities in many states—especially now, as substance use and mental health concerns soar amid the pandemic. Some people may not be thinking of addiction and mental health treatment as essential healthcare, but it absolutely is, and the fact that people continue to reach out for help is a sign of how much despair is out there. We hear the stories and know that people are hurting more than ever. The needs are growing, and we’re fully expecting and prepared for a surge in demand.

Jen Brink-Edwards
Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge

We are still treating our residential clients with the same services – how we conduct them is handled very differently based on social distancing. We have moved to telemedicine for Outpatient Treatment. We offer assessment, individual and group counseling via telemedicine.

Kaylee Hoaby
PRIDE Institute

Our facility is fully operational. We are monitoring for symptoms in patients and staff. We are taking proactive steps to keep our patients and team members safe while serving the needs of our community. We are actively monitoring and responding to all recommendations made by the CDC and our local regulatory and health authorities.

We have implemented additional training for all employees on handwashing and hand sanitization, and strict employee and client compliance with washing/sanitizing hands thoroughly and often.

We have increased the frequency of the required cleaning and sanitization of our facility, including intake rooms, surfaces and common areas.

We are offering services via telehealth, where possible.

If you can look into the future, how do you think it will affect your organization after the stay at home order is lifted? 

Molly Gilbert
Vinland

We certainly hope the more frequent hand washing & hygiene will be a habit people will continue to practice. We are also well aware that this virus will likely come back around with a second or even third wave, so we must remain vigilant.

For those that have been able to take advantage of the ‘stay at home’ option, we can assume there will be some adjustments in coming back into the office five days per week again.  It will be like culture shock!

Brian Zirngible, LMFT

I will probably continue to offer secure online therapy for those that would find it more convenient than face-to-face therapy. Although, I would be very thoughtful and ethical about that decision, as I really never saw myself providing online therapy previous to COVID-19. When it is safe to see clients in my office, I will employ additional safeguards including avoiding physical interaction (hand shakes) and increasing disinfectant wipe downs of all surfaces before and after each session.

Kate Lehmann, LADC

In looking to the future, I am very concerned that we will experience a surge of new clients with complex needs as restrictions are lifted. People are drinking and medicating themselves during this time and may find they lack effective coping skills to return to more usual responsibilities. There will also be additional stresses with waves of infection that are likely to occur until there is world wide immunity and widespread use of a vaccine. Use of alcohol and drugs, in turn, increases the likelihood of poor decision making leading to higher risk of infection.

As a solo practice, I don’t expect to change much of the way I am working except to use telehealth as an option more frequently.

Jeremiah Gardner
Hazelden

We implemented our new virtual services—not in response to the pandemic—but as a planned extension of our telehealth solutions and long-term strategic vision. The pandemic accelerated our plans and has enabled the world to quickly learn the value of virtual addiction treatment and mental health services, as well as peer-based recovery support. All of that is here to stay.

The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies has continued uninterrupted with virtual classes and will be looking to integrate training for future students on the delivery of virtual clinical services. Our Professional Education Solutions team – a group that consults other professionals – also has continued its work virtually and is now helping other organizations integrate virtual clinical services into their operations.

We learned how focused and agile we can be when needed, and developed our change-management muscles, which will serve us moving forward.

We’ve also learned how to do more work of our corporate work remotely and effectively, which will serve us long into the future.

In addition, the process of implementing so many new protocols and procedures has led to us naturally re-examine many existing ones. We’re discovering a lot of continuous improvement ah-ha’s along the way, and that will likely propel some long-term operational improvements.

Jen Brink-Edwards
Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge

We will continue to test clients and employees and follow many of the guidelines [we’ve set in place to address COVID-19].

Kaylee Hoaby
PRIDE Institute

During this period of time, we have noticed that people are picking up bad habits due to a hiatus of their daily schedules and isolation, so unfortunately, we may see an increase in need for treatment, both from a substance abuse and mental health standpoint.

Our calls to action:

  • It is crucial for those struggling with addiction seek help immediately.
  • Addiction will not wait for the curve to be flattened or this pandemic to pass.
  • Those in active addiction oftentimes have somewhat compromised immune systems, major risk factor for contracting this virus.
  • People in recovery and people in general can benefit during this time of isolation by connecting virtually.
  • Use time to dive into passions/hobbies.
  • Simply sticking to a daily routine can be meaningful.

FROM PEOPLE IN RECOVERY

How has COVID-19 affected your access to services?

Brian G.

The largest impact for me is AA meeting attendance. I live in a rural community and we are doing conference calls. I also do Zoom meetings from my hometown that have been a complete delight, partly because I have a meeting history with some of the people. Also the meetings are more solution based.

Ted N.

I’ve continued to meet with my psychologist and also attend 12 step meetings virtually, both of which have been almost seamless. We’ve had some excellent meetings week after week and have had guests attend from various states who otherwise would be unable to due to location. I serve on the board of a treatment center and we’re doing all we can to stay accessible and protect clients while also acting responsibly and within the shut-down guidelines.

What are some new things that you have been doing, that you will continue to do after the stay at home order is lifted? 

Brian G.

My fear is that when the zoom meetings end going back to live meetings where I live will be a let down. I have very limited options here. I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when it comes.

Ted N.

Having much more free time than I ordinarily do has allowed me to take more walks and bike rides with my wife, nearly everyday. That has been a blast and getting out in nature has been good for my soul and spirituality. Also, I’ve had more time to work out to maintain my physical health. We’ve also had time to cook more than we ordinarily do, and that has been good for our marriage and also helped us add a few more dishes to our repertoire. This period has been very difficult for many people and it’s caused a tremendous financial strain on our household and millions of others, and also we’ve seen it as an opportunity to reprioritize and to be careful in the future about packing in unnecessary activities into our weekly routines. It’s lent some perspective on who we’re missing, and which activities we’re not missing. Time is precious, and having more of it has been a blessing. I didn’t realize before all of this just how much time I spent on things that brought me no joy whatsoever, and also some areas that were neglected.


We’d love to hear from you, if you care to answer these questions about your organization or – if you are person in recovery – how has COVID-19 affected you (and how do you think it will impact you after it passes?) Thanks.

Last Updated on May 16, 2020

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