Amid the calls for food, disinfectant and just a friendly voice, social services in Western New York find themselves evolving to help those who need them while working at home. On top of this, because of concerns of COVID-19 and gathering during this time of social-distancing, many meetings ranging from family services, to those providing PreP for at risk individuals of HIV have been canceled.
Some of these meetings can be substituted with conference calls and webinars, but others can only be effective as a group experience where everyone is physically in the room, said Sherman Webb, a group facilitator in Buffalo.
"We've suspended all group meetings as of last week," said CEO of Horizon Health Services, Anne Constantino. "We will be offering tele-conferencing groups of four, but right now it's more important that we work on our patients one-on-one."
Horizon Health Services provides a variety of outpatient services including counseling for mental health, substance abuse, and family and adolescents. Right now, the organization is offering 100% remote access to its professionals, through tele-health, which is face-to-face counseling through Skype or Facetime, or tele-phonic which is an ordinary phone call. Their services extend to Erie, Niagara and Genesee, and because of tele-health, they're able to see anyone in New York state.
Horizon's staff see about 30,000 patients a year.
"All patients will be able to be assessed via those two (tele-health and tele-phonic) available options,"Constantino said. "Including new patients. So, anybody that is struggling with anxiety, fears – as you know this is a very difficult time – they can call and we will set them up to see a therapist."
"We're able to prescribe medication and people are able to see providers via tele-health, as well," she said.
"A lot of the work that I do results around the training and convening of people" said Webb, a caseworker at Gateway Longview who also facilitates meetings. "We can't have large groups of people, so I can't do my peripheral activities."
Some of the meetings Webb runs are groups like Nurturing Fathers, a group for young and old fathers to get together and share lessons; a Healthy Youth food program with Buffalo Education; community health worker training that has gone to a webinar interface; and in the AIDS community to spread PreP to those at risk for contracting HIV.
"A lot of our activities are purely experiential," he said. "You have to be there and in the moment to go through that activity. To have that shared contact as a point of reference to be able to follow and get the message that we're trying to deliver. So, we're pretty much rescheduling everything."
"I think right now everybody appreciates the support and help a therapist can give them. This is a difficult time for everyone, not just people who would traditionally seek out mental health treatment," Constantino said. "These are difficult and stressful times."
"Our workforce is amazing," she continued. "We have the tools, we have the training and we know what our work, and our mission, is. My team, my staff has been phenomenal."
"I know this isn't a forever type of situation," Webb said. "Eventually we'll return back to congregating, but for the time being it is stressful."