Behavioral health providers around the country are doing their best to meet the need for services while also mitigating the risks surrounding COVID-19.
For some, that means suspending visitation and leaning into telehealth, while for others it means taking things day-by-day and case-by-case.
Here’s how the behavioral health industry is responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
Universal Health Services
Universal Health Services (NYSE: UHS) has suspended visitation at its inpatient behavioral health facilities, ramped up telehealth use, implemented mandatory entry screenings and increased cleaning efforts amid coronavirus concerns.
One of the nation’s largest behavioral health providers, UHS has more than 328 inpatient behavioral health facilities and 42 outpatient facilities across the U.S. and the U.K.
“Visitation at our behavioral health facilities has been suspended (with limited critical exceptions),” Matt Peterson, president of UHS’s behavioral health division, told Behavioral Health Business in a statement. “We are strongly encouraging the use of electronic platforms (telemedicine, skype, zoom, increased phone time, etc.) for patient and family connection.”
As recently as Friday, UHS was still allowing “greatly reduced” visitation at its behavioral health facilities. Visitation hours were limited to a maximum of one to two hours per day, with no more than two visitors who had to be screened upon entry and who could not be children.
UHS changed the policy over the weekend, with Peterson calling the situation a “rapidly evolving” one that the company will continue to monitor.
The company has also deployed a number of other safety precautions at its behavioral health facilities. Those include:
- Screening incoming patients, vendors and staff for COVID-19 symptoms using CDC protocols
- Training staff to look for COVID-19 symptoms
- Conducting family therapy sessions remotely using phone or other electronic platforms
- Implementing additional cleaning protocols
Acadia Healthcare (Nasdaq: ACHC) — which operates nearly 600 behavioral health facilities across the U.S., the U.K. and Puerto Rico — is dealing with the coronavirus on a facility-by-facility basis and building on its existing infectious disease protocols, Chief Medical Officer Michael Genovese told BHB.
“We are making decisions as we go,” Genovese said. “We have resisted making broad sweeping generalizations that will be meaningless to people or make it unnecessarily burdensome to places where it’s not applicable.”
Still, at many of Acadia’s facilities, visitation has been restricted for geratric populations with comorbidities and for younger people who are immunocompromised, Genovese said.
Additionally, the organization is increasing the use of telehealth in a precautionary effort to keep patients, staff and family members safe.
“If an issue presents itself, generally speaking, the medical director and the CEO of a given facility would get together [and] call me on the phone,” Genovese said. “We will take the information that we’ve gotten from the government and from the literature that’s out and apply it to the specific situation to the best of our ability.”
He advised other providers not to panic in the face of the pandemic, but rather to execute and add onto infectious disease protocols they already have in place.
“You take those things that are already there, and then you build upon them,” Genovese said. “You’re not really starting from scratch. You did prepare for these sorts of things. Now it’s the time to implement, augment and add to those preparations.”
American Addiction Centers
Meanwhile, American Addiction Centers (OTC: AAC) — which has 11 inpatient facilities, 24 outpatient centers and four sober-living residences nationwide — is also suspending visitation at inpatient facilities, as well as implementing new cleaning and screening protocols.
“In the midst of this pandemic, we must also be mindful of the 131 people who die every day in the U.S. from an opioid overdose,” an AAC spokesperson told BHB in a statement. “We have a duty to provide lifesaving care to those struggling with the disease of addiction and our doors remain open to help those in need.”
New protocols include:
- Implementing a new screening questionnaire during admissions
- Establishing a health protection committee at each facility to ensure hygiene and safety measures are in place and to respond to any COVID-19 concerns
- Canceling facility tours, external meetings and groups until further notice
- Limiting access to facilities except essential staff, health care workers and patients
- Halting visitation and encouraging virtual visits
Recovery Centers of America
Recovery Centers of America (RCA) — a King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based addiction treatment provider with seven inpatient and 10 outpatient facilities across Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts — has implemented widespread screenings, closed off some entryways and suspended visitation at its facilities.
“We are optimistic that the measures we have put in place will help ensure the health and safety of our patients, families, visitors and staff,” CEO Brian O’Neill told BHB in a statement. “Our prayer is that these measures are temporary as we join the nationwide fight against COVID-19 and reaffirm our fight against the spread of addiction.”
RCA began screening prospective patients for COVID-19 symptoms at its inpatient and outpatient locations March 3 and has since “sent seven patients out for medical clearance prior to admission to our units,” O’Neill said. The company is also screening workers and contractors upon entry.
O’Neill stressed that RCA’s facilities will continue to accept admissions 24 hours per day.
Other precautions include:
- Limiting certain activities and large-group gatherings
- Screening and limiting outside contractors before they’re permitted access to RCA facilities, with no more than two vendors allowed in at a given time
- Limiting entry points into buildings and screening staff upon entry
- Implementing additional cleaning training and guidelines
- Suspending visitations and encouraging virtual visits
Other provider plans
Other behavioral health providers were less detailed when sharing their COVID-19 response plans with BHB.
“Beacon Health Options is actively monitoring the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation along with all recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization,” a spokesperson for Beacon Health Options previously told BHB in a statement. “The safety of our members, care providers and employees is our primary concern.”
Boston-based Beacon, which was recently acquired by Anthem (NYSE: ANTM), is one of the country’s largest behavioral health organizations, serving more than 36 million people nationwide.
Smaller providers are also dealing with the pandemic the best way they know how. Often times that means staying open but using telehealth when possible.
Like Beacon, Naperville, Illinois-based Symetria Recovery was less specific when sharing its COVID-19 response plan.
“Symetria Recovery has developed a plan using CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of Covid-19,” Chief Operating Officer Tim Bohman told BHB. “We will remain open as an essential medical provider but hours of operation may change as deemed necessary.”
Symetria Recovery has 12 clinics across Illinois and Texas and specializes in opioid use disorder treatment (OUD). That includes medication-assisted treatment, which other providers across the country have gotten creative in offering in the midst of the crisis.
For example, in Indiana, opioid treatment programs will be using lockboxes and naloxone kits to get patients the MAT medications they need, while reducing the number of trips they must make to the clinic.
BHB will continue to update this story as it develops.