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08/26/2021

Navigating the Increasing Number of Behavioral Health Cases with Virtual Care

One of the rare silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the increased adoption of virtual care and telehealth technology, to include audio only and audio/video visits. Prior to the pandemic, few hospitals used telehealth options frequently, but in March 2020, as the public health emergency was declared, Wentworth-Douglass rapidly expanded virtual care options. This adoption of telehealth technology allowed Great Bay Mental Health to continue to meet the needs of patients at a time when practices were limiting physical access and temporarily closing.

“All of a sudden, we had an option that had not been available before,” says Kellie A. Mueller, Assistant Vice President of Behavioral Health. All patient visits could now be done virtually.

“We kept saying behavioral health is perfect for telehealth,” Mueller says. “The fact that we have it (telehealth) as an option is fantastic. Even several months after in-person visits were resumed, over 50 percent of our behavioral health visits remained virtual.”

At The Doorway, a substance abuse program offering assistance to those struggling with substance use disorders, Peter Fifield, Substance Use Disorder Program Manager, says the staff continued to see patients in-person, since a significant portion of patients didn’t have access to a computer or a smartphone. But even with maintained in-person visits and new options for behavioral health virtual visits, both Fifield and Mueller saw concerning trends during 2020.

In the Emergency Department, the numbers of patients seeking mental health assistance dropped significantly at the beginning of the pandemic which was a “huge concern,” Mueller says. “We knew people weren’t having fewer crises. They just weren’t getting the treatment they needed.” In the fall and winter, that proved true. Numbers of those in crisis visiting the ED increased dramatically. “It’s really high in a concerning way,” Mueller says.

At The Doorway, almost the inverse was true. Fewer sought to begin treatment for substance abuse disorders. “Taking the first step to recovery is hard,” Fifield says. “With so much going on, so many other struggles, it is understandable why some may not choose recovery right now. But we want people to know help is here.”

Please visit our Behavioral Health Services page for more information about our expanded virtual care options.

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