Help coming for Rhode Islanders struggling with behavioral health challenges of pandemic


PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — Rhode Islanders coping with behavioral health challenges of the COVID-19 crisis have more opportunities to seek help, thanks to new grants awarded by the Rhode Island Foundation‘s COVID-19 Behavioral Health Fund.

Earlier this year, the fund was established with $5.3 million. More than three dozen organizations shared $3.7 million in grants in the initial round of funding in May, and 31 organizations will share the remaining $1.7 million in grants that were announced Thursday.

According to the Foundation, programs receiving the grants offer a range of counseling services, both in-person and via telehealth, for domestic violence survivors, children trying to cope with the pandemic, or those experiencing homelessness.

Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Foundation, says he hopes the grants will help organizations address potential increases in depression, isolation, suicide and substance abuse.

“These are key issues that not everybody sees, but many people experience,” Steinberg said. “There was a realization very early on that COVID-19 and the health implications, the economic implications, especially unemployment, the isolation issues, have created this need.”

Steinberg says the increased need for services has meant a demand for additional staff to help.

“There’s a technology side, but the people side is equally, if not more important. We need to be able to provide resources to these wonderful organizations that are doing great work in the community,” Steinberg said. “This is above and beyond. This is kind of a surge of its own of need that came out of the pandemic, and they were not all equipped for it, whether it was telehealth or people.”

Child & Family in Middletown, Thrive Behavioral Health in Warwick, Women’s Refugee Care in Providence, and Wood River Health Services in Hope Valley are among 31 organizations that received funding.

Full list of awardees »

Thrive Behavioral Health was awarded money in the first round of grants in May to be able to provide its employees hazard pay to compensate frontline staff, install safety barriers between staff and clients, and obtain equipment to provide increased teletherapy and online support groups.

The organization says they will use its newest grant money to expand its telehealth services for individuals struggling with increased mental health symptoms, substance use, and/or homelessness in response to the pandemic. Specifically, Thrive will purchase laptops and headsets so its staff can increase teletherapy capacity.

Thrive President and CEO Daniel Kubas-Meyer says the organization’s use of telehealth has advanced “significantly” over the last six months.

“We’ve been providing the vast majority of our care via telehealth, and we’ve been very surprised as to how well our clientele has adapted to it,” Kubas-Meyer said.

At Thrive, clients have been utilizing both video chats and standard phone calls. According to Kubas-Meyer, a significant portion prefers telehealth rather than regular face-to-face care.

“A lot of our folks are challenged by low income, and that creates some complications when it comes to actually having a face-to-face visit,” Kubas-Meyer said.

He adds this could be due to issues with transportation, finding eldercare or childcare, medical problems, or lack of mobility.

“What we’ve found is that prior to this all happening, we had no-show rates of about 25%, and since we went primarily telecare, our no-show rates are down to about 16% right now,” Kubas-Meyer said. “So 8% of folks are now getting care that weren’t getting care before.”

Kubas-Meyer says his staff has found some of these clients to be more forthcoming and informative via telecare, compared to when they are in a face-to-face appointment.

According to a news release from the Foundation, Child & Family will use its grant money to hire a clinical care coordinator in order to meet the increase in behavioral health needs in East Bay communities as a result of the pandemic. Additional staff will support their current team to quickly screen clients and link them to appropriate services, which Child & Family expects will enable it to serve an additional 55 clients.

Women’s Refugee Care currently serves approximately 260 individuals, including 31 babies. The funds will help support the Clinical Social Worker, four community liaisons, and two interpreters who are helping to address anxiety, depression, addiction, anger, and suicidal thoughts among their clients. The organization also instituted telemedicine to stabilize and improve the behavioral health of its clients, who are primarily refugees.

According to a news release, the new funding also allows for rapid coordination of transport to the hospital, plus scheduling of medical appointments by phone or email with language translation.

This is the second round of grants from the COVID-19 Behavioral Health Fund at the Foundation, established by the state Office of the Health Commissioner with more than $5 million in funding from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, Tufts Health Plan, and United Healthcare.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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