Amid COVID-19, Greenwoods Counseling & Referrals (Greenwoods), a nonprofit organization that uniquely helps individuals and families living and working in Litchfield County find quality, accessible and affordable mental health care, has quickly turned to TeleHealth to provide continued counseling services to not only established patients, but also those experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and fear arising from the crisis.
Averaging about 50+ mental health assessments per month before the crisis, Greenwoods expected to see about a 25% increase in patients in 2020 based on an increased awareness of the organization’s services; and a growing number seeking help for a variety of reasons: verbal and physical abuse, trauma, anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug addictions, bereavement, divorce, eating disorders, marital/relationship conflict, and problems that just seem impossible to tackle alone. However, with the unprecedented health and economic crisis, Greenwoods is actually seeing its numbers decreasing.
“When faced with a mental health or related problem, many people simply don’t know where to turn,” says Executive Director of Greenwoods Counseling & Referrals, John Simoncelli, LCSW, LADC, MPA, who says the organization is the only mental health referral service in Connecticut that provides personalized referrals by matching each person who comes to them with counselors, therapists or other professionals with the expertise to help at reduced rates.
“TeleHealth allows us to continue to offer mental health counseling, assessment and referral services at a time when people need it the most,” he continues. “But, many don’t know that TeleHealth is even an option. Plus, for many, there’s a lack of motivation to take the first step to get help coupled with financial uncertainty right now.”
Pre-pandemic, Medicare, Medicaid, and many private insurance companies wouldn’t cover TeleHealth. Now, with rules unrestricted, even HUSKY Health (Medicaid) is responding to member and provider needs associated with COVID-19, waiving its face-to-face requirements for medical and behavioral health services. So, while it didn’t make sense for Greenwoods to invest in TeleHealth beforehand, now it does.
Within three days of Greenwoods having to shut down its in-person counseling sessions, the organization trained all of its employed clinical staff (9 clinicians) in TeleHealth, so that they could continue to see patients without interruption. In addition, the organization worked with all of its new and existing patients to help them access TeleHealth and sent information to its network of 130 clinicians, encouraging them to transition to TeleHealth, so that Greenwoods could continue to refer clients to them. Greenwoods’ clinical coordinator, who supervises all clinical work, turned into its technology department for two weeks, problem-solving and troubleshooting with clinicians and clients.
Operating without any state or federal funding, Greenwoods also provides financial help to those who are eligible. Thanks to its Financial Assistance Fund supported by grants, donations and online fundraising, the organization never refuses to see a patient and never lets a patient go untreated because they can’t afford mental health or their insurance won’t cover it.
“I am truly grateful Greenwoods has provided us with the means to continue to help and support those we serve in our community,” says Cindy Vail, a clinician, who says that patients need to tell their location before a TeleHealth session in case emergency help needs to be called. “Continued sessions give patients a time to meet with someone who cares about their challenges and to help them learn to problem solve effectively. They are able to connect with someone and discuss their burdens while feeling validated and supported.”
Before Trish McTague’s physician sent her a brochure about Greenwoods six and a half years ago, she had already seen three therapists. But, none were a good match. Today, she continues to see the therapist she called at the top of the short list of names that Greenwoods matched to her specific mental health and insurance coverage needs.
“I see my therapist twice a month and never miss an appointment,” says McTague. “So, while I had never ‘Zoomed’ before, a virtual session enabled me to continue to connect with someone. It’s so important what Greenwoods provides. We need to get rid of the stigma associated with reaching out and getting help, whatever that may be.”
Greenwoods Counseling and Referrals
25 South Street, Litchfield