Although it may not always seem so, mental illness is very common in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20% of American adults—or 46.6 million people—had a mental illness in 2017. This includes people with a wide variety of behavioral disorders such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders and substance use disorders.
However, a smaller percentage of people have mental health disorders that are highly disruptive to their daily lives. These may be severe cases of the kinds of disorders listed above, or they may be what are known as psychotic disorders, which cause people to experience hallucinations or have beliefs that are disconnected from reality (called “delusions”). About 4.5% of U.S. adults—or 11.2 million people—suffer from severe mental illnesses.
Psychotic disorders and other severe mental illnesses can be very difficult to manage, which is why many people are prescribed medication to help control their symptoms. These medications can greatly increase an individual’s quality of life, but restrictions made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic have also made it harder for some people with severe mental illnesses to receive their medication doses. Behavioral health care providers have had to innovate in order to continue serving these clients during this difficult time.
At Cummins Behavioral Health, our medical services staff have converted our consumer transportation vans into mobile clinics in order to deliver medications directly to the homes of these high-need individuals. Thanks to these mobile clinics, our consumers with severe mental illnesses have been able to continue receiving the medications that keep them safe and their symptoms under control.
We spoke with Beth Borders, our Medical Services Practice Manager, and Brandy Fergason, one of our Medical Assistants, to learn how the mobile medical clinics are helping consumers continue their regular treatment during the COVID-19 crisis.
How the Mobile Clinics Keep Consumers Safe
Medication can be helpful for managing a variety of behavioral health conditions when prescribed in conjunction with therapy. At Cummins, our medical services team gets involved when a therapist believes medication could be beneficial for a particular consumer. “If someone is receiving services here with a therapist, they would talk to the therapist about medication, and the therapist would collaborate with a psychiatrist to create a treatment plan,” Beth explains.
Some of Cummins’ consumers—such as those who suffer from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, borderline personality disorder or strong obsessive thoughts—receive antipsychotic medications as part of their treatment. Many of these consumers receive long-acting injections of their medication, and many also utilize Cummins’ transportation services to get to and from their appointments. However, this arrangement has become problematic due to COVID-19, as Brandy explains:
“We are not allowed to transport consumers anymore, so a lot of the people that we were seeing didn’t have a way to get to the office for their injection. Some of these people had to be switched to oral medication, but the issue with that is they may not remember to take oral medication on a continuing basis, which is why they were receiving long-acting antipsychotics in the first place. So, we’re now going out and seeing these people who relied on our transportation as well as people who face higher risk from COVID-19.”
Crucially, the mobile clinic program protects these at-risk consumers from the negative consequences of missing their medication. “If these individuals don’t get their medication, they could be prone to having symptoms,” Beth says. “We want to keep them from having any symptoms, and we want to keep them from having bigger issues like being admitted to the hospital. We want to keep them safe.”
What Happens During a Mobile Clinic Visit
When a mobile clinic van arrives at a consumer’s home, the first thing that’s done is a precautionary screening for COVID-19. “We take their temperature and screen them right outside the van. Once they pass the screening and are wearing a mask, they can come into the van,” Beth says.
Inside, consumers are greeted by a private, controlled environment where they can receive their treatment. “We’ve made the inside of the vans exactly like what we would have in an outpatient lab,“ Brandy explains. “We have a place for them to sit down, we have their paperwork, we have all of our instrument trays, syringes and blood collection tubes. We’re able to give them their injection or draw blood right there in the van.”
Beth and Brandy typically handle visits in Hendricks, Putnam and Montgomery Counties, while two other members of the medical services team, Jeanne Lehman Lopez and Allyn Smith, operate the second mobile clinic in Marion County. The full team involved with the mobile clinics is as follows:
- Beth Borders, BS, Medical Services Practice Manager
- Jeanne Lehman Lopez, BS, RN, Registered Nurse
- Brandy Fergason, RMA, Medical Assistant
- Allyn Smith, CMA, Medical Assistant
- Andrea Henderson, CMA, Medical Assistant
- Sonny Bennett, Driver
- Woodie Hutcheson, Driver
- Kevin Rogers, MBA, Director of Environmental Services & Safety Officer
- Brent Dugan, Maintenance Technician
Fortunately, the mobile clinic team has found that their extra efforts to treat consumers have not gone unappreciated, especially among family members and loved ones of consumers with severe mental illnesses. According to Beth,
“Sometimes the consumers don’t really realize what we’re doing for them because they’re trying to heal and get better, but the family members do. We had one individual who had just started receiving injections and didn’t have any transportation, so we went to her home and gave her the injection instead. Her mother was home at the time, and she was so appreciative of what we were able to do for her daughter. That was an ‘a-ha’ moment for us. It reinforced that we have to make this work for our consumers, even if they might not realize how important it is for them to get their medication.”
Our medical services team is committed to serving all of our consumers during the COVID-19 crisis—especially those at the highest risk of suffering negative health consequences. We are proud of their innovation with the mobile medical clinics and the hard work they’re doing to continue treating individuals with severe mental illnesses!
For more information about new services Cummins BHS is providing during the COVID-19 crisis, read our articles on telehealth and virtual addiction treatment below!