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INDIANAPOLIS — When Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued the shelter in place order to help slow community spread of the coronavirus and the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction gave mental health care providers the greenlight to provide virtual services, Bowen Center says it was ready.
Bowen Center is the largest Community Mental Health Center in the state and has recently been expanding its geographical footprint and equipping therapists and employees with hot spots and other tools to work in these local communities rather than a central office.
Outside of its 16-bed acute psychiatric hospital, methadone clinic, group homes and medical clinics, each of which require in-house patient care, Bowen Center employees were already equipped to work from their homes providing psychiatric care, therapy and skills coaching at the onset of this pandemic.
"And so our psychiatrists, they almost took no dip at all," said Bowen Center President and CEO Kurt Carlson. "And now they are seeing about 5 percent more patients and services than they did when they were doing face to face. Our outpatient therapist, it was about a week, a week and a half, when they kind of tried to catch their stride. They are now seeing about 10 percent more [patients] than when they were seeing face to face."
During this global pandemic, Bowen Center has also expanded to serve patients throughout the state and help meet the growing need.
They are even serving patients overseas, continuing care from international students who went back home when campuses across the state closed.
Carlson says they are grateful for Holcomb, Secretary Dr. Jennifer Sullivan of the Indiana Family of Social Services Administration and Jay Chaudhary and Rachel Halleck of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction for removing barriers to make it easier for Bowen Center to serve the Hoosier state's most vulnerable residents during this challenging time.
"Our psychologists and nurse practitioners are really finding this to be a valuable experience for them," Carlson said. "If they have an opening in their schedule, they are taking people from all around the state who can't get into their local provider, and so they will just squeeze them into an opening, and so we are available for the whole state of Indiana"
Due to the successes of the virtual services, Bowen Center plans to implement more of these practices and make telehealth options available on request even after this pandemic. Skills Coaches say patients are excited to be able to continue meeting by phone and video conference.
Skills Coaches are connecting patients to insurance navigators, housing, transportation, food and utilities assistance. They're helping patients cope with job loss and providing help filling out unemployment applications. Skills coaches who normally work in the classroom with patients are now assisting them with E-learning.
Home-bound patients are grateful for human connections over the phone. Patients say virtual appointments are helpful, lower anxiety and provide a renewed sense of hope.
Dr. Richard Ruhrold, Chief Pyschologist for Bowen Center, say the telephonic services have increased show times for patients, removed barriers like transportation or geographical issues, and the option also removes the stigma of receiving mental health services.
"There are some people who simply out of fear, out of shame, out of misplaced guilt, will not, just wont consider walking into a counselor, mental health, addictions building," Ruhrold said. "It's so important for people to have a lifeline, especially when they are experiencing this pandemic-imposed isolation."
He also says they have been able to provide life-saving help to patients over the phone.
"We've been able to intervene and prevent at least a couple of suicides that I am aware of specifically because we were able to walk someone through a crisis on the phone," Ruhrold said.
Group therapy sessions via phone and video conference are more interactive because patients now have to rely more on verbal communication instead of visual cues. Patients said the sessions being beneficial and, in some cases, more valuable than in-person sessions.
Bowen Recovery Center, a methadone clinic, is still operating as normal with strict attention to sanitation, social distancing, masks, hand-washing and patient screening. The state of Indiana has relaxed a wide variety of restrictions, including qualifying more patients for take-home medication.
Addiction counselors are also meeting more frequently with patients by phone and report higher engagement and more patients maintaining sobriety than ever before because of the increase in supportive phone interactions and access to take-home medication.
The Psychiatric Inpatient Unit operations are normal with the addition of increased disinfecting of all surfaces, masks, patient screening, hand-washing and social distancing measures.
Staff work with patients as they prepare for discharge to adjust to the COVID-19 challenges once the patients are back out in the community.
Autism services by phone and video conference have some patients who struggle with social anxiety experiencing a much higher comfort level with the social distancing approach to services and Bowen Center staff help teach parents the best way to structure days now being spent at home.
Ruhrold says therapists have been able to engage with parents while doing these types of sessions too, however, children have been more challenging to engage on social platforms compared to face to face interactions.
Bowen Center plans to continue to provide options and outlets for telehealth services even as the state loosens its COVID-19 restrictions.
"We surveyed patients about how they've experienced this transition by asking them a couple of simple questions," Ruhrold said. "How did they compare a telephonic or televideo service to a face to face experience and then did they think it was beneficial? And 80 to 90 percent of them said, gave positive responses to both of those questions."
As for cost, 95 percent of patients at Bowen Center have some sort of insurance coverage.
But for any patients unable to pay their portion, the center offers charity care to ensure money is never a barrier to receiving services.
If you want more information on Bowen Center and the services they provide, you can visit its website.