April 16, 2020 By Julie Rael, LCSW, CCO Valley Behavioral Health Every now and then, we are all faced with difficult challenges that test our mental endurance and ability to cope. We may resist and struggle with these challenges in the beginning, but as we rise above and conquer them, they leave us mentally stronger and wiser in the end. At Valley Behavioral Health our treatment providers help individuals rise above their challenges and obtain the treatment needed to further recover from setbacks. Our providers can attest to why behavioral health services are critical in supporting the daily functioning and well-being of our patients. At Valley Behavioral Health, our treatment providers strive to ensure our patients receive the most effective care in the least restrictive treatment setting. This past year, we have been fine-tuning these efforts by using our state’s health information exchange to gather our patient’s emergency service utilization to further inform their treatment plans and to ensure we are providing all the services necessary to assist them in functioning independently as possible. Also, we have been working to increase our utilization of telehealth technology to expand our reach to individuals living in more remote areas and with medical or mobility impairments that can make it difficult to make it into our clinics. Our optimization of our patient’s emergency service utilization and telehealth technology has not only allowed us to reach more individuals and further improve their treatment, but these initiatives have also reduced our patient’s dependency on unnecessary emergency services and multiple forms of public transportation, as well as reducing their possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus during this pandemic. During my time in the role as Chief Clinical Officer this past year, I have had the opportunity to see our provider’s cumulative efforts displayed on a larger scale. I have also witnessed them demonstrate agility and resiliency that may not be readily ascribed to those working in behavioral health, as most of their work is unpublicized due to the confidential nature of our services. Our community is helped to stay safer and healthier due to the care they provide our patients. As I reflect back on the events that our providers rose above and conquered this past year, I can’t help but think we have been unknowingly involved in a series of training exercises that would help prepare our Valley team for the COVID-19 pandemic to arrive in our community. It was less than a year ago when our Valley team experienced a terrifying event when a strange package was left in front of one of our supportive housing programs. The legal authorities, emergency medical services, and bomb squad were immediately called in to assess the situation. It was an all-day event that resulted in a lot of fear and anxiety for everyone, but our providers and staff in multiple teams in our outreach, housing, peer support, and outpatient programs quickly coordinated response by moving the patients to a safe location offsite, while also ensuring they kept everyone informed, calm and comfortable. They also ensured their meals and medications were given on schedule. They executed their response gracefully and flawlessly, and after the strange package was dealt with and the adrenaline of the situation faded, my colleagues and I stood back amazed and grateful for our heroes working on the front line. Fast forward to less than three months ago, our providers were faced with another challenge and rose up to assist and support a community that experienced a tragedy that resulted in multiple deaths and left the residents living there confused, upset and distressed. Everyone had more questions than answers and the fall-out from the tragedy reverberated for several weeks. During the entire process, our providers on our crisis team tirelessly offered crisis and grief counseling around-the-clock to these residents. Fast forward once more, to just six weeks ago when multiple levels of our leadership in various departments along with several medical providers in our agency formed the COVID-19 Response Plan Taskforce. The focus of this task force ensured we had a well-stocked inventory of cleaning and medical supplies as well as an executable plan to keep our providers and patients safe while we continued to provide essential behavioral health services when COVID-19 arrived in our community. Today our providers continue to persevere during this pandemic and provide services in our residential treatment programs for individuals suffering from substance dependency and those that are at a greater risk of relapse and overdose without these services. Our supportive housing programs continue to provide all services prior to the pandemic while also ensuring our patients receive regular check-ins to ensure they have enough food, medications and the services needed to keep them healthy and stable. Our Carmen B. Pingree program continues to provide in-home services and education for the higher acuity children with Autism. Our day treatment programs continue to provide services at full capacity. Our homeless programs continue to provide services for individuals displaced, needing behavioral health case management services to help them obtain much- needed shelter. Our outreach programs continue to search for patients that are often re-hospitalized due to multiple issues that make it difficult for them to engage in services. Our outpatient programs continue to deliver therapy, medication management, and case management services via telehealth to keep individuals living and working independently in the community. Our providers continue to rise to the occasion daily, to provide these essential services while supporting their colleagues and managing their own emotional experiences challenged by social distancing and a stay at home order to help the efforts in flattening the curve and fighting this pandemic. These individuals are truly our heroes working on the front line with all the health care workers and other essential services being provided in our community and worldwide. I am truly humbled and grateful to work with some of the most courageous and selfless individuals and I want to express my gratitude to all our providers that have continued to demonstrate compassion for those we serve and the support they have provided to each other during this past year and these uncertain times.