As we are all now acutely aware, we are facing an unprecedented public health threat from the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. I have been tuning in daily to the recommendations of state and local organizations for guidance regarding the health and safety of myself, my family, and of course, my clients. Professional organizations in the field of mental health have also been weighing in with wisdom regarding how to best serve clients at this time. It is imperative to balance ongoing support and accessibility as a mental health provider, with an abundance of caution during uncertain times.
I have put a lot of thought into how I can best protect clients and community members who fall into higher-risk categories: those who are immunosuppressed, immunocompromised, of older age, and/or have coexisting health concerns. These categories cover more than a few of you who visit my office, and these risks have weighed heavily on my mind. It is my utmost priority to protect all of my clients' physical health as well as mental, emotional, relational and social health. After all, if we are compromised physically, we suffer in all other ways.
Although I only see a client (or two) at a time, there are days where 10 or more of my clients are entering the building where other service providers are also working/seeing the public. With the virus surviving up to 3 days on untreated surfaces, combined with the 5-to-14 day incubation period of COVID-19 before symptoms begin, it is impossible for me to ensure there would be a zero risk of transmission between clients or myself. If I, a building mate, or any one of you, were to begin experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, several dozen others would suddenly be facing the reality of an exposure and the potential secondary exposure of their own family, friends and coworkers.
Furthermore, it appears that if myself or any of my clients were to test positive for COVID-19, I may be compelled by governmental agencies to disclose the identities of clients, which is normally protected health information under HIPAA. I wish to avoid any such disclosures at all costs out of respect for your privacy.
It therefore appears that the best practice to follow will be to switch all sessions to a telehealth model until we know more about the scope of this outbreak. Please know that this has not been an easy decision to make, and I am committed to keeping as much of your therapeutic treatment consistent and recognizable to you as possible. I will be re-assessing this plan as more information about COVID-19 becomes available.
What this will mean for you is that I will contact you individually the day prior to your next scheduled session and together, we will plan for a phone call or FaceTime call, whichever you prefer. On my end, I will be in my office or in a dedicated home office space that is quiet and private. This will replace your in-office session. By March 18, I will be up and running with a HIPAA-secure, encrypted platform for video sessions. Once I have those resources in place, I will post instructions for accessing the platform for anyone who wishes to utilize it.
I understand that with the closure of schools, cancellation of travel plans, and transition to working remotely, there will be an evolving impact on many of your schedules and availability. You may find yourself more or less available now than you usually are, or available at different hours. You may need to ensure there is a private space for you at home or work to conduct your tele-session. Therefore, please know that I am remaining flexible regarding dates and times that will work best for you. If you require a change in schedule, or would like to request extra support, please contact me by text at 224-585-8015 or email at [email protected] to let me know. I will be doing all I can to remain a consistent and resourceful support to each of you through the coming days and weeks.
Thank you so much for your flexibility and understanding! I'll look forward to speaking with you each personally as we move forward with this temporary plan.