We must stay home and practice social distancing to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also imperative that we take care of our mental health, and especially our children’s mental health.
Our everyday mission at Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation is to elevate the mental well-being of youth and children in Lancaster County. Usually this means helping families afford to see a therapist or counselor, training primary care providers in children’s mental health care, funding local programs that support mental health for kids, and developing the workforce to meet demand for care. This hasn’t stopped. But right now, we also want to make sure that Lancaster County families know there are options.
First, if you are experiencing anxiety, depression, stress or another mental health challenge, you can now have appointments with your own behavioral health care provider by phone or online, sometimes referred to as “telehealth.” On March 15, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services issued a memorandum authorizing the use of telephone and video appointments for patients receiving government medical assistance. Many private insurance companies are also authorizing the use of remote visits, and even waiving copays.
These remote appointments are conducted via video platforms such as FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. Appointments may also take place by phone if preferred, or if you don’t have internet access. If you don’t have a mental health care provider, many are taking new patients.
While it may not be quite the same having an appointment with your provider virtually instead of in-person, there are some advantages that are coming to light. With the convenience of having appointments essentially anywhere, adherence rates are much improved. Transportation is no longer a barrier to making appointments. People do not have to take time off from work or school for nearly as long, or at all. And with improved adherence, treatment is often more effective and progress occurs more rapidly.
Once life gets back to normal, we think regulations regarding use of telehealth should remain loosened, and insurance coverage for such services should continue, as there is clear evidence of the effectiveness and utility of telehealth services.
Second, we believe financial need should never be a barrier to mental health care. As always, LOHF can assist Lancaster County young people (ages birth through 25 years) and parents of dependent children with mental health copay assistance. Those qualified for this program pay just $10 per visit with a licensed behavioral health care professional, including remote visits.
We recently raised the income cap to 250% of the federal poverty guidelines, thanks to the generosity of our donors and a grant from PNC Bank Foundation Neuber Charitable Trust. (For example, a family of four with an income of approximately $64,000 or less now can qualify.) Enrollment and approval are fast with no red tape, so if the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your income, we encourage you to apply. Both patients and providers are often surprised at how simple it is to participate. Information and applications are available here.
Third, parents are not only navigating their own anxieties and worries at this time, but also those of their children. We’re offering guidance and resources to help, starting with a blog post featuring an interview with Dr. Adam Biuckians, co-author of this column. Titled “Helping Kids Cope with Anxiety about the COVID-19 Pandemic,” it can be read here.
If you need mental health support for you or your child, please don’t let quarantine, social distancing or finances keep you from seeing a professional. If you would like to learn more or contact us, please visit us at lohf.org. Whether you are a parent, young adult, teen, child or health care provider, we’re here to help.
Adam Biuckians, M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and board chair of Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation. Anna Kennedy is its executive director.