COVID-19 has highlighted the need for better access to care, particularly to mental and behavioral health treatments, which are often under-funded, under-resourced, and inaccessible for many individuals.
To shed light on the challenges that healthcare workers and the communities they serve are facing during this time and what organizations can do to help, Kyruus recently held a virtual forum on “Meeting Our Communities’ Mental Health Needs During and After COVID-19,” featuring Dr. Gary Gottlieb, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and former CEO of Partners in Health and Partners HealthCare; Dr. Chi Huang, Executive Medical Director of General Medicine and Hospital Medicine Shared Services at Wake Forest Baptist Health; and Dr. Mark Hyman Rapaport, Reunette Harris Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and Chief of Psychiatric Services at Emory Healthcare.
In a discussion moderated by Kyruus’ Chief Medical Officer and SVP of Account Management, Dr. Erin Jospe, panelists discussed the growing impact of pandemic and isolation-related stress and anxiety and how health systems are working diligently to address new and existing mental health needs. Below are key takeaways from that discussion:
Identify New Ways to Care for Healthcare Providers and CaregiversEven in a non-pandemic environment, providers and caregivers are often under extreme pressure and are at times making critical decisions under conditions of uncertainty. During COVID-19, this feeling of strain is only heightened as healthcare workers try to serve masses of scared and sick people in a persistent atmosphere of trauma. Additionally, they are juggling stressors they have never encountered before such as real-time, ongoing resource shortages that affect their own safety.
- How Health Systems are Making A Difference: To help care for the mental health of their employees, health systems are focusing on nurturing that population intensively. Many have established programs to help mediate stress, including weekly working groups, hotlines that triage mental and behavioral health services 18 hours a day, programs to provide wellness tips (available in both English and Spanish for wider access), virtual yoga and meditation classes, and websites with lists of external resources available around the country to provide 24/7 support.
Build Virtual Infrastructure for Addressing Mental Health NeedsCOVID-19 has been “an innovative disruptor,” urging health system leaders to think creatively to evolve access to mental and behavioral healthcare in a sustainable way to have a widespread, strategic, and long-term impact. In particular, they are turning to telemedicine in psychiatry. For one organization, moving to a virtual model has increased volumes of outpatient psychiatric care and decreased no-show rates drastically.
- How Health Systems Are Making A Difference: Even though many health systems have begun the process of “re-opening” and rescheduling appointments cancelled due to COVID-19, not every patient is ready to come back. To help patients feel safe and enable better access to mental health treatment, many health systems are revamping their entire intake process, using a hybrid of telehealth and inpatient experiences and partnering with mobile groups in communities to reach patients more effectively.
Remove the Stigma of Asking for HelpMany individuals are feeling overwhelmed and stressed during this crisis—even those who don’t have pre-existing mental or behavioral health challenges. The stigma surrounding care—the thought that others will think they are weak for expressing their concerns—can leave individuals feeling afraid to seek help. Additionally, those who have or are recovering from substance abuse are experiencing an increased rate of recidivism and are reluctant to seek care due to the stigma surrounding substance abuse issues.
- How Health Systems are Making A Difference: Health systems are acknowledging the pressing need to address the urgency of getting help for their patients, healthcare workers, and staff while also destigmatizing mental health care. To accomplish this and raise awareness, one health system enlisted a videographer to film ICU nurses and disseminated those videos within the health system community and to TV stations nationwide. This has helped them not only to bring visibility to the challenges healthcare workers face but also celebrate successes during this chaos. Additionally for patients, a health system immediately began to create and disseminate wellness tips in both English and Spanish. Bringing awareness to communities in these ways will help guide conversations on how to deal with mental health challenges during COVID-19 and allow some patients and workers to better care for themselves.
Extend Empathy to AllGiven the amount of change and uncertainty in our daily lives, the need for empathy has never been higher. Health systems now have a responsibility to extend grace and space to others—the grace to not have it all together all of the time and the space to self-care within their communities and themselves.
- How Health Systems are Making A Difference: One health system emphasized the importance for senior leaders to have frontline experience in the emergency department and the impact it has on creating an empathetic state of mind. Others have found that the best course is just checking on each other and asking questions to initiate the process of healing. Understanding this will remain a constant need, empathy must lead approaches to mental healthcare.
No one knows exactly what kind of healthcare system will emerge from this pandemic, but what is clear is that mental healthcare needs a stronger focus. Along with digital approaches to care, health systems need to work together to break down access barriers and provide timely, empathetic care to those who need it. These short-term fixes are stepping stones toward a more enlightened tomorrow.