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How NH CMHCs Are Responding to COVID-19

How NH CMHCs Are Responding to COVID-19

 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.

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