Volunteer Behavioral Health responds to COVID-19 to support community

Posted 4/1/20

Volunteer Behavioral Health responds to COVID-19 to support community

Volunteer Behavioral Health detailed its systemwide strategy today for managing the coronavirus threat while prioritizing their commitment to treating community members.

The response includes implementation of public health guidelines, a new health screening process for client visits, and increased use of telehealth options.

The Volunteer leadership team has been closely monitoring the novel coronavirus and holding daily meetings to continually adjust their service delivery in light of new information.

Their response has been carried out in alignment with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), the Tennessee Association of Mental Health Organization (TAMHO), Your local County Health Department, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

“We have been prepared for flu outbreaks and other illnesses through the groundwork of both of our active risk and assessment, safety, and quality and compliance technical advisory groups,” said Phyllis Persinger, chief operating officer of VBH. “While COVID-19 is unique, our proactive response plan was designed to be comprehensive and to take every precaution to keep clients, employees, and our communities safe.”

Implementation of public health guidelines

Through internal communications and signs posted throughout every center and facility in the VBH system, both staff and the public are continually reminded to follow the latest public health recommendations. These include washing hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds upon arrival to and after leaving a location, washing hands after coughing or sneezing, and to always cover a cough or sneeze with the crease of the elbow or a tissue.

Another tool put into place is actively practicing and promoting social distancing. Where possible, employees have been sent home to work, lobby seating arranged to keep 6 feet between clients at all times, and all face-to-face meetings and trainings cancelled to slow the spread of the illness and keep people illness-free.

Additionally, centers immediately implemented an increased cleaning protocol including removing items such as magazines and toys from lobbies, and sanitizing all frequently used surfaces such as door handles, lobby chairs, and countertops.

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Volunteer Behavioral Health responds to COVID-19 to support community

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Volunteer Behavioral Health detailed its systemwide strategy today for managing the coronavirus threat while prioritizing their commitment to treating community members.
The response includes implementation of public health guidelines, a new health screening process for client visits, and increased use of telehealth options.
The Volunteer leadership team has been closely monitoring the novel coronavirus and holding daily meetings to continually adjust their service delivery in light of new information.
Their response has been carried out in alignment with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), the Tennessee Association of Mental Health Organization (TAMHO), Your local County Health Department, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“We have been prepared for flu outbreaks and other illnesses through the groundwork of both of our active risk and assessment, safety, and quality and compliance technical advisory groups,” said Phyllis Persinger, chief operating officer of VBH. “While COVID-19 is unique, our proactive response plan was designed to be comprehensive and to take every precaution to keep clients, employees, and our communities safe.”
Implementation of public health guidelines
Through internal communications and signs posted throughout every center and facility in the VBH system, both staff and the public are continually reminded to follow the latest public health recommendations. These include washing hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds upon arrival to and after leaving a location, washing hands after coughing or sneezing, and to always cover a cough or sneeze with the crease of the elbow or a tissue.
Another tool put into place is actively practicing and promoting social distancing. Where possible, employees have been sent home to work, lobby seating arranged to keep 6 feet between clients at all times, and all face-to-face meetings and trainings cancelled to slow the spread of the illness and keep people illness-free.
Additionally, centers immediately implemented an increased cleaning protocol including removing items such as magazines and toys from lobbies, and sanitizing all frequently used surfaces such as door handles, lobby chairs, and countertops.

Health screening process for client visits
All clients have been or are in the process of being contacted by care coordinators to advise them how to proceed with their normally scheduled appointments. When clients must come to a center, they are screened first for any COVID-19 or upper respiratory symptoms or risk factors. These include fever, shortness of breath, coughing or sneezing, sore throat, and any other flu-like symptoms.
Clients are asked to not enter a VBH facility if they are experiencing symptoms, have been around anyone showing the symptoms or anyone presumed to have COVID-19, or if they have traveled recently from a high-risk area, all in an effort to not unnecessarily expose clients and staff.
Community members are also encouraged to check their symptoms with the COVID-19 Symptom Checker tool located on the CDC website.

Once clients are in centers or facilities, proper protocol is in place to monitor their temperature for possible fever, to place clients in a separate area from providers, and to use an in-house telehealth system. All in-person healthcare providers are using available personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks. Any clients exhibiting symptoms are guided to their local health department, their primary care physician, or to emergency services for further evaluation. Currently, services provided in outpatient centers include injection treatments and first-time appointment intake visits during an adjusted operating schedule.

“We hope that our clients understand that the changes we have made are designed to keep their
families, friends, and community safe during this time,” said, Tonya Ballew, director of Hiwassee Mental Health Cleveland, “We’re committed to continuing to deliver the essential care needed to promote behavioral health while we all do our part to get through this together.”

Increased use of telehealth options
The most impressive undertaking within VBHs large system across 31 counties has been the transition of nearly all employees, providers, and support staff to have work-from-home capability. This means all services are still available to serve some of the most vulnerable in our community while taking necessary measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Medication management, care coordination, and therapy are all available via telehealth options including televideo and telephone so clients can remain in their home. Telehealth screening, which allows clients to be seen remotely, helps clients to avoid traveling when not necessary and potential exposure from or to others. Clients who do not have internet or phone connections can still be seen in outpatient centers through the in-house telehealth system.

As Go. Bill Lee stated in his Emergency COVID-19 Declaration on March 12, “Vulnerable populations should stay home where possible and avoid large gatherings or locations where they are more likely to contract the virus. Vulnerable populations include older adults and adults with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory illness.”
A central phone number, 1-877-567-6051, is available for appointment information and for the latest on available services, programs, treatment options, and facilities.
The 24-hour, 7 days per week crisis line, 1-800-704-2651, is also available for anyone experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
Walk-in Crisis Centers are open and serving clients in Chattanooga and Cookeville and include Crisis Stabilization Units, Observation, and Respite.

While COVID-19 remains a public health issue in Middle Tennessee, VBH states they are determined to continue to serve communities through education, quality care, and by doing their part to protect each other as best as they can.
For the latest updates on Volunteer’s available services, or updates on COVID-19, please visit vbhcs.org or CDC.org.

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