Update on How Community Mental Health Centers Are Responding to COVID-19
Early Financial Stability Actions Will Ensure Operations and Access to Care at the Centers
Concord, NH: The ten state designated community mental health centers (CMHCs), operating at 40 locations across the state of New Hampshire, have taken assertive actions to quickly adapt to the environment around COVID-19, but meaningful challenges remain. Each of the centers are open with various operational adjustments to ensure stability and continued support to individuals living with severe mental illness or serious emotional disturbance.
Roland Lamy, Executive Director of the NH Community Behavioral Health Association (CBHA), said, “The staff and leadership of the CMHCs have worked closely with the Association, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Governor Chris Sununu, and the 3 Medicaid MCOs – AmeriHealth Caritas New Hampshire, NH Health Families, and Well Sense Health Plan – to craft workable solutions to patient access and financial stability. Executive Order #8, allowing reimbursement for telehealth, has been a critical component in sustaining services across the state. The use of telehealth and telephone access has allowed the centers to continue operations and maintain efficient care for their clients. In addition, adjustments to the State Medicaid payment system and cooperative agreements between the CMHCs and the MCOs will stabilize payments to the centers, helping mitigate workforce gaps and other operational needs.”
While these are important strides, several issues remain which need to be resolved soon if access is going to be properly provided in the weeks to come. Jay Couture, President of CBHA and Chief Executive Officer of Seacoast Mental Health Center, outlined challenges:
- Access to PPE: Community Mental Health Centers require access to adequate supplies of personal protective equipment. While centers have moved many of their services to telehealth, that does not apply to all the services they provide. Residential group homes, injections, assertive community treatment and some crisis services require direct face to face contact to provide appropriate services.
Looking to the weeks to come, CBHA is focused as several emerging issues:
- Workforce: With schools closed and diagnosis or presumed diagnosis of COVID19 continuing to increase, CMHCs are seeing a reduction in available workforce. This is occurring in a system that has struggled with significant vacancy rates for a number of years. Many centers have dozens of staff who are currently unable to work. This could lead to a pressured situation if, for example, any region is unable to staff a residential group home, given that there are currently no alternate locations to house this population.
- Growing mental health conditions due to isolation, stress and substance abuse: This is a stressful time for the entire population; not just those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. CMHCs and other providers will need to work together and find ways to support individuals and families who are dealing with the challenges of isolation. The loss of routine daily structure and activities poses many challenges for these individuals. Additionally, many members of the CMHC community are reeling from job losses related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Amid the challenges, the CMHCs have taken important steps and necessary measures to be a leader in their communities during this COVID-19 State of Emergency. The centers have all updated their websites and social channels to offer online resources and supports and continue to offer tips on how to cope during trying times. With over 250 clinicians and staff around the state, the CMHCs offer the most experienced and available resources during COVID-19.