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While the world is continuing to adapt to the “new normal,” there is a demographic currently in need of individualized support and attention: our children and adolescents. In pre-pandemic times, the education system acted as more than an opportunity for children to socialize; it was an outlet for those who needed a safe and structured environment during the day. This new lack of structure has forced many young people to manage the personal stresses of COVID-19 and its potential impact on their families alone.
In response to the current needs of families, Inspira’s Child and Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Programs, located at Inspira Health Centers Bridgeton and Woodbury and Inspira Medical Center Elmer, are working diligently to maintain their program’s community online and assist participants and their families during these difficult times.
Understanding the Challenges that Exist for Children During COVID-19
“Our participants are struggling with feeling socially isolated. Children are stuck at home and issues that may have been resolved or identified through constant human interaction have been exacerbated,” said Beverly Lynch, program director of Inspira Children’s Behavioral Health Center in Woodbury. “Now, this social isolation has transformed into school avoidance. We are watching kids not log on, which causes problems for parents in the home and ultimately increases their length of stay with our programs.”
Inspira’s Child and Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Programs assist participants from 3 to 18 years of age and provide a full continuum of care including therapeutic nursery programs, children’s partial hospitalization, adolescent partial hospitalization and an intensive outpatient program. Additionally, Inspira has the ability to refer to auxiliary services.
“Despite our participants’ desire to be in group sessions, many can’t find a private space or feel comfortable engaging virtually because of at-home chaos. Families are in crisis, and pre-pandemic, chaotic home environments have been amplified by financial stressors,” said Theresa Black, L.P.C., N.C.C., ACS, CCFP, director of A Step Ahead partial hospitalization programs at Inspira Health Center Bridgeton and Inspira Medical Center Elmer. “In addition to managing the academic stress of an unfamiliar schooling environment, working-aged students also feel compelled to get a job after school to support the family. Some of our participants thrive on our program’s virtual platform, but for all of these reasons, many are avoiding our virtual assistance. This makes it challenging not just for the kids, but for the parents, creating a vicious cycle of aggression and frustration.”
Delivering the Behavioral Health Services Children Need
Since December, Inspira’s Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services have been conducted solely via telehealth. When it is safe to resume in-person programs, participants will be able to return to Inspira’s partial hospitalization program’s care routine—five-hour days, five days a week. For now, the new virtual system offers participants and their families one to two hours of telemedicine per day and 90 minutes of virtual group sessions, as well as both individual and family therapy sessions.
“Telehealth has been a pillar of support for our participants during COVID-19, and it has also increased the participation of family members in this care process. While many parents or guardians may have previously missed therapy appointments, family members can just step out and go sit in their car, or step out of work during lunch to join the telehealth therapy session or check-in appointment,” said Black.
Identifying children and adolescents in crisis starts at the primary care level. By making mental health concerns part of the conversation, providers can monitor patients for changes not just when they are in crisis, but as a regular part of their routine.
“One of the best resources providers have are the free screening tools, which providers can download online and have parents fill out before their appointment. Integrating this simple, non-threatening screening tool will allow patients and their families to catch the changes earlier and get proactive treatment,” said David Moore, R.N., M.S.N., BC, executive director of Mental Health Services at Inspira Health.
When a provider identifies a potential mental health issue, it’s important that parents understand that change doesn't happen overnight. Many parents may be hesitant or fearful of starting their child on medication or hospital-based supervision; however, incorporating mental health concerns as part of regular appointments will break down the behavioral health stigma one conversation at a time.
“We take care of first-time treatment participants, diagnose participants with autism spectrum disorder, assist with trauma, offer dance and movement therapy and support our participants with registered, extremely qualified behavioral health professionals,” said Lynch. “If you are concerned about a patient, or have concerns from a patient’s family, the best thing you can do is make a plan. Plan to give them literature on the subject at hand, plan to follow up with them sooner rather than later and plan to give a warm handoff to our services. It is never too late to help patients get the help they need.”
To learn more about Inspira’s Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services, go to www.inspirahealthnetwork.org