ROCHESTER — In September, Catholic Family Center debuted a new means of fulfilling its mission of serving the vulnerable in the Rochester region.
On Sept. 3, one of the agency’s staff psychiatrists used Catholic Family Center’s new telehealth capabilities to visit with a client in one of the agency’s three intensive residential drug-treatment centers throughout the region.
Such visits take place every day, but what was unique about this one was that it took place without the provider ever leaving the agency’s clinic on North Clinton Avenue. Instead, the doctor used videoconferencing technology and a broadband Internet connection to counsel and treat a client working to overcome chemical dependency in a residential facility.
Catholic Family Center is the first community-based provider to offer such telehealth counseling services in Monroe County, according to Kristie Elias, the agency’s vice president of behavioral health services.
“The hospital systems are, but the other community-based providers in Rochester aren’t using it,” Elias explained.
Catholic Family Center turned to telemedicine as a way to combat a shortage of psychiatric providers, which has been a long-standing challenge both locally as well as throughout the nation.
“This was a way for us to better utilize those resources,” Elias said of the project, which was funded by a 2018 grant from the Greater Rochester Health Foundation.
Catholic Family Center’s psychiatric services are based out of the agency’s Mental Health Clinic, located at 87 N. Clinton Ave. in Rochester. The agency’s Restart Community Residential Services, which provides services and care to individuals seeking to address their chemical-dependency problems, has two intensive residential facilities within the City of Rochester and one in Newark.
“I have a psychiatric provider in each of the houses once a week. Some of those individuals could wait seven days, or two weeks if somebody’s off,” Elias said. “And when our provider is in Newark, if there is an issue at one of the other houses, it’s a 45 minute drive for her to be able to do anything.”
The new telehealth capabilities, however, allow a resident to see a psychiatric provider in a much more timely fashion, she said.
A resident’s first interaction with a psychiatrist will still be in person, noted Dr. Robert Young, one of Catholic Family Center’s staff psychiatrists. A face-to-face meeting better allows a provider to pick up on and become familiar with a client’s nonverbal behavioral cues, such as minor eye movements or body language, he said.
“This (telehealth capability) is for routine care, routine follow-ups with people you know, and you’re simply managing existing issues that you have a handle on,” Young said, noting that he can manipulate the camera to zoom in or out to better pick up on a client’s behavioral cues.
These telehealth appointments can be useful for such things as fine-tuning the dosage of a client’s medication in between in-person appointments, Elias added.
“Individuals might also be having cravings for drugs, and so by having a face-to-face over telehealth, they could then be prescribed anti-craving medications,” Elias added.
Before implementing the new system, Catholic Family Center’s staff took time to develop policies designed to ensure the safety of clients and staff alike. During telehealth appointments, clients are alone in a room with a laptop, but the room is devoid of dangerous or sharp objects, and a staff member is always right outside the door in case clients need assistance, according to project manager Erin Kehaley-Corr, who oversaw much of the development and training that went into the project. The staff person outside the door also has a designated cell phone in case the provider needs to get in touch, she explained.
Feedback from clients who’ve used the new system has been very positive thus far, Kehaley-Corr remarked. Clients can opt not to take advantage of telehealth appointments if they’re not comfortable with them, but those who have had such appointments have said they felt the same compassion and empathy from providers that they’ve come to expect from in-person appointments, noted Jessica Pruitt, mental-health clinician at the Freedom House intensive residential facility.
“The real interpersonal piece has still been able to be there, so they still enjoy the connection, and they still feel like they’re getting the best care,” Pruitt said.