(One positive change ushered in by COVID-19 was widespread and almost immediate acceptance of telehealth as an education and treatment option. This blog, which tells you what clients think, is the first in a two-part series on Maryhaven’s transition to telehealth. Come back for Part 2 next week to hear more about what staff has to say.)
“If I didn’t have Maryhaven, I’d still be homeless,” said Michael W., a client at Maryhaven. “Today, I’m housed, in better standing with my family and I’ve rekindled bonds with those who wouldn’t talk to me before.”
Fortunately, Michael’s story echoes that of many who have traveled through Maryhaven mental health and addiction recovery treatment, with one notable caveat: He reached recovery not solely by entering a bricks and mortar building – he also advanced virtually.
As a result, he calls 67-year-old Maryhaven “agile” and “versatile.”
Michael was just finding a comfort level with the team at Maryhaven when COVID-19 hit, and the switch to virtual & phones was “like taking that first step through the door all over again.”
“At first, I didn’t think it would work,” Michael said, meaning that he already worried about his ability to stay in recovery. These doubts were compounded because he prefers in-person interactions due to a car accident-related memory loss and because he didn’t have confidence in the technology.
“It started slow, but once I gave it a chance and let them help me with the transition, it ended up being really smooth,” Michael said, adding that the phone calls and virtual interactions were extremely well organized.
He said he’s no longer anxious about phone calls and credited his counselor, Candace Mills, and Mike Gersz, Maryhaven’s Director of Adult Outpatient Services, for helping him through the process.
“The entire staff stepped up to put the proper precautions in place while still making patients feel comfortable, as if nothing had changed,” Michael W. said. “In-person or online, they take care of you.”
In the end, what started largely out of fear has led to opportunity. While Maryhaven certainly had to adjust internally, Gersz says it’s here to stay for one main reason.
“Telehealth has definitely reduced barriers for treatment. We’re able to provide services in ways that match an individual’s comfort level,” Gersz said. “Yes, we were forced to adapt, but it has strengthened us by doing so. We are succeeding because of our work as a team, from the administration to IT to our counselors. We’ve grown a lot and I think our clients will too. They’ve shown remarkable resilience.”
Gersz said it took equipment upgrades on both sides to keep everyone connected.
“I didn’t have the cell phone I needed at first,” Michael W. noted, “but they helped me get a phone and the technology I needed to get to my meetings.”
Michael W’s ongoing work with Maryhaven is now a combination of some in-person sessions, hybrid meetings where some tap in virtually, and phone calls. He still prefers face-to-face connections, but notes that the other methods continue to grow on him and he’s thankful they were available.
Gersz sees the hybrid formula as being here to stay in some form.
“Maryhaven, as a whole, has matured so much over these last few months,” he said. “We’re much more technology-based and nimble—ready and able to respond to what the client needs most.”
He sees this as particularly important, given that getting out of the pandemic is only step one in a lengthy road to recovery.
“The trauma and stress will be here long after the risk of COVID-19 has passed,” Gersz said. “The long-term health effects of this will linger for decades and generations and we just don’t know what that will look like. We want to be here to help and now we have even more options to help every client get and stay healthy.”