Despite the challenges of technology, participants adjusted and even thrived with virtual support services
When the pandemic hit, JEVS behavioral health professionals moved quickly to modify the way they delivered the supports and services their clients had come to rely on. “We went totally remote in March 2020,” said Kshari Dublin, a recovery facilitator with JEVS Mobile Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, who prior to Covid would meet participants in their homes or in the community.
After some concern about how clients would adjust, Dublin noticed something surprising. “Many participants seem to prefer the new way of connecting. It’s like they found their niche. In fact some have just flourished, accomplishing longtime goals and setting new ones.”
Aja Alston, a certified peer specialist with JEVS Peer Support Services, agrees. “Participants have adapted to the change to telehealth remarkably well,” said Alston. “Many have stated that the video engagements are extremely helpful with staying connected and feeling less isolated. In some cases services are more frequent and the participants feel more engaged than prior to the pandemic.”
Alston even started group sessions via Zoom, something she had not done previously with her participants. “They find it helpful and really like it,” she said. It is something she plans to continue even as things open up.
“We thought it would increase anxiety, but in fact they flourished.” – Tuere Rogers, JEVS Recovery Educator
Tuere Rogers, recovery educator at JEVS Community Integrated Recovery Center (CIRC), also adapted community-based services to telehealth. “A lot of participants didn’t have access to technology, so we coached them over the phone how to maneuver Zoom. Within 3 months about 75% were on Zoom and they got over their fear of technology.”
Like Dublin and Alston in their respective programs, Rogers saw an increase in engagement in those who participated in telehealth. “Even the participants that were introverts — we thought it [using technology to connect] would increase anxiety, but in fact they really enjoyed Zoom, they flourished, they were excellent. They learned how to put up different backgrounds. We did scavenger hunts on zoom and they did great with that.”
Adapting Again: The Transition to Re-Opening
With vaccination rates on the rise and Covid restrictions lifting, JEVS behavioral health professionals are helping their participants adapt again, this time to getting back outside and into the community.
“People are tired of the constraints of Covid,” said Alston. “They want to get out. I do, too! I am used to spending time with my participants in the community and right now modeling what it looks like to stay connected with my peers is a very important factor of dealing with Covid fatigue.”
“Participants are glad to be able to get out now,” said Dublin. “Those that need assistance, I help them mask up, walk down the street and go shopping. We’re still being careful. My concern is keeping them safe.”
“The first step was getting them vaccinated,” said Rogers. “Then, trying to get them back into a routine because they’ve been in the house for a year. Many of them gained weight, so we talk about healthy foods, learning to cook — that’s a goal for a lot of participants. Quite a few of them are moving into their own apartment, to be more independent. They’re starting a new chapter after Covid with the understanding that you don’t know what the future holds.”
“I tell them, take it one day at a time,” said Dublin.
Alston agrees. “Be patient with one another. Tap into your higher power, and stay connected with some type of network. Call somebody if you are feeling isolated. Talking about it helps.”
Rogers encourages her participants to think positive. “We talked about what type of summer vacation they would like. Because of their daily routine a lot of them don’t think about going on vacation – we wanted them to think about rewarding themselves and enjoying life. We’ll still be here for them,” she said. “Telehealth. It’s the new normal.”