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Support in Uncertain Times

A team of nearly 30 veteran licensed behavioral health professionals with Health Care Service Corporation are spending more time than usual on the phone with members struggling with behavioral health issues as the COVID-19 outbreak disrupts nearly everyone’s life.

“We’re trying to focus on solutions and what they can do to make themselves feel safer and less isolated,” says Debbie Maness, a behavioral health case manager. “We’re having to do that a lot lately.”

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey revealed almost half the people in the United States believe the pandemic is affecting their mental health, with 19% saying it has had a “major impact” on them.

The self-isolation and constant fear of virus exposure can further fuel the anxiety and depression that leaves members feeling unsupported, stressed and overwhelmed, says Clayr Simnacher, a behavioral health case management unit manager.

“The biggest issue for people is they don’t have a structure to their day."

Case managers provide members with information about virtual support groups, schedule appointments with telehealth providers and recommend deep-breathing exercises, telephone apps and activities to help in these uncertain times.

“A lot of members are experiencing anxiety,” says Stephanie Jones, a behavioral health case management team lead. “They don’t want to go out. But they have to go to the grocery story. They have to go to the pharmacy to get their medication. It is really hard for them.”

Case managers coach members and help them gain control and develop routines, especially as millions of people nationwide have been left rudderless as they stay home from work and school to avoid virus exposure. For example, Maness suggested one member, who enjoys sewing, make face masks to send to medical facilities around the country.

“The biggest issue for people is they don’t have a structure to their day,” Jones says. “They sit there and worry. Boredom is the biggest trigger for everything.”

Need for virtual care

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of Americans already struggled with some form of mental illness.

These days, people receiving treatment may be having difficulty getting in touch with their support systems. Some providers or support groups may have stopped offering meetings. And their friends, relatives and program sponsors are isolating themselves to prevent virus exposure.

Some members need assistance with behavioral health issues while fighting COVID-19. One who tested positive for the virus needed Maness’ help planning for his sobriety while isolated from his family, including finding a behavioral health professional using telehealth provider MDLIVE.

The company saw a 40% increase in behavioral health visits in March as the virus took hold in the U.S. and many communities asked residents to stay home.

To help members continue to get the support and treatment they need during the COVID-19 emergency, HCSC has lifted member cost-sharing for covered behavioral health services and other care delivered via telehealth by in-network providers.   

Maness believes she and her team will receive more calls from members seeking help as their friends and family become ill from the disease. She recently assisted a member who revealed having suicidal ideations following the COVID-19-related death of a close friend.

“Having the support of your supervisors and team gets you through those kinds of crisis calls,” Maness says. “The whole team is working together to meet our members’ needs.”



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