On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the recent coronavirus, or COVID-19, a pandemic. In efforts to “flatten the curve” of disease spread, providers of behavioral health services around the world adapted quickly by making the switch to entirely virtual, HIPAA-compliant environments.
At Embark Behavioral Health, a nationwide provider of behavioral healthcare for adolescents and young adults, we are giving this already vulnerable population the capability to work through not just their presenting issues, but further feelings of anxiety and depression caused by isolation due to social distancing.
Our Cabin John, Maryland outpatient clinic launched a Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) on March 19. Being adaptable in a constantly evolving situation is key, so we carved out schedules that could fit around our young people’s virtual education platforms. DAY clients participate in group three hours daily, five days a week; EVE clients participate in group three hours daily, three days a week. Individual and family therapy along with weekly psychiatry check-ins round out our digital offerings. Two Cabin John clinic therapists created a series of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills training videos to provide clients during this time of physical isolation so that they can practice the skills from wherever they are.
Clinical Director, Nate Luongo, LCSW-C of Embark Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic in Cabin John, shares observations on the new digital milieu: “Our Virtual IOP now opens up new possibilities to serve more young people who have difficulty accessing treatment. During this last week, we have seen an increase in client engagement and a positive response by therapists. I look forward to seeing how we can continue to engage our young people and their families virtually well after our clinic opens.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued a stay at home order on March 29 and the same day President Trump declared social distancing guidelines to extend through April 30. Telebehavioral health services to address anxiety and depression are needed more than ever. Yet telehealth in the age of COVID-19 creates new questions about delivering behavioral healthcare services across state lines. Potomac Programs draws clients from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. We continue to monitor the situation and will keep all abreast of any licensure updates.
That said, “clients have been amazingly willing to adapt to treatment via Zoom,” says Jennifer Wilder, LGPC, NCC, a therapist at the Cabin John outpatient clinic. “We have had to use creative methods to practice the DBT skills together that sometimes feel a little silly at first to do over a video call, but I found that if I as the therapist and leader were willing to demonstrate “let’s do this,” the willingness by clients was near 100%.”
With so many virtual platforms out there and new ones created almost daily, choosing the right one can be quite the task. Embark Behavioral Health utilizes RingCentral, with a Zoom integration, to maintain HIPAA-compliance and clinical fidelity. Both platforms have seen an exponential surge in downloads since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, as not only providers of behavioral healthcare but businesses and families around the world searched for ways of digitally connecting to others.
“I am so grateful we live in a time where we can connect virtually,” expresses Elizabeth Kosin, LMSW, a therapist at the Cabin John outpatient clinic. “It is in these times of uncertainty that we may need to rely on each other a little more and I’m happy we can maintain and grow our support systems online.”
If you or someone you know is 14-24 years old, in the state of Maryland, struggling with a mental health disorder and/or co-occurring substance use disorder and could benefit from a virtual IOP (HIPAA-compliant group, individual, family, and psychiatry sessions), please contact Embark Behavioral Health at 855-264-8712 / [email protected].
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