The impact of COVID-19 has been particularly felt by people who struggle with addiction. For those of us who work in the field of addiction treatment, most of this year has been devoted to responding to the pandemic and strengthening our organizations so that we are prepared for future emergencies.
Kristin Nolan, our Senior Vice President of Behavioral Services, delivered a presentation titled Addiction Treatment, Response to Emergency and Beyond as part of Regis College’s panel on how to approach recovery and treatment during this unprecedented time. In her presentation Kristin discussed the ways in which we were able to quickly pivot, what we learned, and what other providers can learn from us. Don’t worry if you missed it – we’ve got the full recap for you below.
By mid-March the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared a national emergency in the United States and strict social distancing measures were in place. Addiction, however, did not magically disappear, so we had to act fast to make sure we could still deliver treatment under new state and federal guidelines. We implemented a centralized intake point for all of our programs where we did temperature checks and COVID-19 screening forms for each client. We made staff safety, and obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE), a top priority.
Response to Pandemic
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency was thankfully able to provide us with PPE for our staff, but we still had other challenges to deal with. How could we keep patients separated by unit and still provide them with three meals a day? What would happen if we had a positive case?
We started making contingency plans for potential outbreaks and instituted our own safety measures within units to minimize the risk of spread. We reduced group sizes to allow for social distancing within programs, and when possible, we conducted individual and group sessions outside. We made a checklist to follow in the event of a COVID-19 case which would include closing down that unit to new admissions for 14 days, but still allowing clients to stay. We also vastly expanded our telehealth offerings for assessments and individual counselling sessions, using phone and video to conduct sessions with the client and clinician in separate rooms.
As the virus spread and we were seeing new clients at intake that were positive, we created a specialized, isolated COVID-19 unit for withdrawal management and clinical stabilization. We never want to turn away anyone who needs our help, and with this unit we were able to provide addiction treatment to clients who tested positive for the virus without spreading it to others in the facility. We didn’t have the perfect space for this unit ready to go, but we made it work, and further embraced new tech like telehealth to make the transition safe and easy for clients and staff.
Future of Addiction Treatment – Beyond the Pandemic
All of these changes and updates to our services were necessary for providing treatment safely during the pandemic, and our staff acted swiftly and without complaint to enact them. New or expanded offerings like telehealth will likely be here to stay long after the pandemic.
Flexibility is going to be key for treatment providers: the ability to adjust practices to meet the rapidly changing needs of future emergencies. At Spectrum we had to make changes at every stage of treatment, from how we conduct screenings, to the way we run programs and sessions, to how we plan aftercare in the midst of an ongoing and evolving public health emergency.
What we have learned above all else during this time is that immediate access to care is vital for communities and individuals. Treatment centers cannot simply close their doors during an emergency. We are an essential service, and we need to continue to find new ways to reach people in need during crises. If there is one positive thing that has arisen from this pandemic, it is that we now know that our incredible staff is more than capable of rising to any challenge, making sure that we are still able to offer our continuum of care under any circumstances.
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, Spectrum Health Systems is open and available to help. Please at 1-877-MyRehab and speak to our staff before arrival. Start your recovery journey today!