AHCH Ensuring Access to Behavioral Health Through Telehealth Services
Ryan has been a behavioral health therapist with AHCH for over 7 years. Over the years, building genuine relationships with his peers and clients is something Ryan cherishes. Some of the clients he has worked with directly, he said he has been able to build solid relational foundations which have helped during this public health crisis there where client to therapist contact is regulated; however, caring for his family while caring for clients has become his new reality.
“It feels like a lot of triage where the lines are overlapping somewhat while working from home. I’m wearing a couple different hats,” said Ryan.
The AHCH Behavioral Health Program provides a variety of services to persons experiencing behavioral health issues including individual therapy, group, therapy, behavioral health assessments and crisis intervention. Services are provided by licensed behavioral health professionals (social workers and counselors) through telemental health (i.e., the provision of mental and behavioral health services via technology. Source: https://bit.ly/3rZY9gW) services. The program functions using an integrative model in conjunction with the AHCH medical, dental, social services, case management and harm reduction programs.
AHCH: What attracted you, or most excited you to work at AHCH?
RYAN: The population we work with. If we think about levels of discrimination and intersectionality, people of color who experience homelessness, women experiencing homelessness, undocumented people experiencing homelessness, native people…it’s a double whammy. Being able to have human interactions with others is what excited me the most.
AHCH: Considering your entire time as a behavioral health provider, can you recall a time when you felt most alive, most involved, or most excited?
RYAN: Getting involved in starting the SBX (buprenorphine) program. We tried a few things that were interesting, trying to be innovative and reduce barriers to care.
Buprenorphine is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid use disorder (OUD) as a medication-assisted treatment (MAT). As with all medications used in MAT, buprenorphine should be prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes counseling and other behavioral therapies to provide patients with a whole-person approach (SAMHSA, 2020). For persons experiencing homelessness the overdose crisis is not a new one, and the effects of substance misuse have an even greater devastating impact. As the Health Care for the Homeless community knows well, addiction can cause and prolong homelessness, and the conditions of homelessness complicate one’s ability to engage in addiction treatment (Source: https://bit.ly/3nj96GD).
AHCH: How has providing care to people who are experiencing homeless changed during this public health crisis?
RYAN: Reducing face to face contact has presented some challenges. There is so much that gets missed when we cannot pick up on non-verbal communication cues.
AHCH: What are the changing needs of AHCH clients during this time?
RYAN: Increased need for safe housing. How can someone “social distance” while they are likely surrounded by other people experiencing homelessness? There is some fear and trepidation in the air too. Increased anxiety and angst about what comes next.
AHCH: How have these changes helped you meet clients ongoing needs?
RYAN: It’s helped to call a client I haven’t seen in a while out of the blue. Feels like client’s recognize they are at least somewhat connected in real human relationships when there is a provider just calling to check in on them.
The AHCH Street Medicine Outreach Program includes a mental health component to unsheltered people who are sleeping rough and in encampments. The program provides medical care and improves access to mental health care and connects people with social services for basic needs (Source: https://bit.ly/3npC9IK).
AHCH: How have these changes and outreach helped you meet clients emerging needs?
RYAN: I’ve honestly not seen the full benefit of outreach just yet. Thus far there have been medical outreaches emerging because this is a medical crisis predominantly when we take it at face value. The more subtle communal, emotional, and mental response has not been fully explored. I predict that as people begin to articulate their emotional needs during this state of emergency, we will see an increase in the need for therapists to help people process their thoughts and feelings surrounding the new realities we find ourselves in with COVID-19.
AHCH: What is the single most important thing AHCH has contributed to your career? What is the single most important thing AHCH has contributed to needs of people who are experiencing homeless?
RYAN: I interned at Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless when I was in the last year of graduate school as well. Before coming back on staff, it was a lesson in the power of building relationships with consistency. Coming back to AHCH as an employee I’ve been able to learn in an environment where the needs are so many, I feel like 7 years equals a decade of work experience. I believe AHCH has contributed to the needs of people experiencing homelessness in providing a place where they can be heard and their experiences will be witnessed without judgment or the stigma often associated with homelessness.
Appointment times for future visits are available. To schedule an appointment, call the AHCH Behavioral Health Program at 505-242-4644 or visit the AHCH website for more info at abqhch.org.
Here are some tips that can help everyone improve their mental wellness:
- Develop a positive attitude — people with positive attitudes are happier, more successful, and better able to handle crises and stress. And in concert with a positive attitude, get an attitude of gratitude for what you have instead of dwelling on what you don’t.
- Avoid negative self-talk — Learn to be thankful for the good rather than focusing on the negative issues.
- View a crisis situation as an opportunity— creative problem-solving can expand your options. Try to make a list of good things that could result from the problem you’re having to solve.
- Laugh— Humor is a great stress-reducer. Studies indicate laughter can make you healthier.
- Exercise— Regular exercise increases energy and releases brain biochemicals to ward off depression and anxiety. Just a 15-minute walk a day will help keep body and soul together.
- Improve your diet— During times of stress, you tend to skip meals or eat junk food. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and fiber will help you maintain the physical and mental stress you need to deal with the situation.
- Get enough rest— sleep disturbances are common during stress.
- Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed. Help can be just a phone call away.
For more information go to https://www.americanmentalwellness.org/ or to interiminc.org.