Clinical Therapists adjust amid COVID-19 pandemic

One year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot has changed for the clinical therapists in the Department of Psychiatry.

In March 2020, when patients were no longer allowed inside Poynter Hall, therapists adjusted and started setting up telehealth appointments. Debi Pittock, LICSW, Lead Social Worker for the department, said telehealth has gone better than anyone could have predicted.  For patients, who couldn’t find enough time to drive to UNMC and see a therapist in person, we’re able to set aside an hour for a meeting on Zoom. Therapists could remind patients who forget they had an appointment, and the patients could immediately log onto their telehealth appointment.

“The team quickly figured it out and rolled with the punches, and so did our patients. We wanted to meet patients where they were at and make sure everyone was staying safe,” Pittock said. “It’s tough for our patients to get to (Poynter Hall) in general. With parking, you have to carve out an hour and a half every week. We do have some staff and patients who are chomping at the bit to get back in person, but for the most part, most of our patients and staff are excited to keep doing telehealth.”

Pittock added that telehealth did provide some challenges and may provide even more down the road. In the past year, therapists have had to develop non-verbal ways for patients to speak with their therapist to guarantee privacy outside of the therapists’ office. Pittock said across the nation, therapists have found has found workarounds so people can remain safe.

In the past year, therapists have also volunteered for the Peers in Need of Support (PiNs) program.

“As PiNS volunteers, they have reached out to and assisted countless Nebraska Medicine and UNMC colleagues in managing the myriad sources of stress associated with providing health care during the pandemic,” said David Cates, PhD, Vice-Chair for Clinical Services.

There will also be licensing challenges in the future if states toughen restrictions as the pandemic slows down. Pittock remains concerned that insurance companies will stop covering sessions if COVID-19 cases slow to the point where patients can return to in-person visits.

“The ‘what-next’ is unknown, but the therapists and I will adjust to any changes and continue to provide the behavioral health care for our patients,” Pittock said.

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