COVID-19

Substance use treatment goes virtual as people shelter from pandemic

Alisa Roth May 12, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Treatment centers are pivoting to online counseling to provide services while minimizing risk. Zak Bennett/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Substance use treatment goes virtual as people shelter from pandemic

Alisa Roth May 12, 2020
Treatment centers are pivoting to online counseling to provide services while minimizing risk. Zak Bennett/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Until last month, the women in the opioid users group at the Hazelden Betty Ford treatment center met in a cozy room on the center’s campus in St. Paul, Minnesota. Now, though, the 10 women meet with counselor Jessica Hernandez online. 

It’s one of the ways treatment centers are finding to let people stay in treatment for substance use disorders but keep themselves safe from COVID-19. 

Hernandez said the new format, which they started using shortly after the coronavirus crisis emerged, is working. But it’s definitely challenging, too.

“Typically in our groups when we’re here in person, we’re able to see things based on how our client presents that we’re just not able to see on screen,” she said. She was talking about the nonverbal cues that are so important in therapy, things like facial expressions or signals of when a person is really finished talking. 

The number of people in treatment at Hazelden has been dropping since the crisis started. One program that usually has about 200 people, for example, only has around 120 right now.  The cost of treatment may be one reason numbers are down. Most of the people at Hazelden are privately insured, but Hazelden is expensive. A group session like the one Hernandez leads is $375 a meeting, and people usually meet more than once a week, often for many weeks. 

But the numbers are down at other places too, including the Park Avenue Center in Minneapolis, where most of the patients are publicly insured. Its outpatient program, which usually has 100 people in it, is down to 85.

Director Mark Casagrande said as few as 20 of the 85 people enrolled in the outpatient program are even showing up. The center is starting to offer some group sessions online, but clients have to have a computer or phone, and not all of them do. 

Robert Gjevre enrolled in an outpatient program to treat his addiction to meth after his parole officer said it was either that or back to prison. 

He’s living in a group home. He and his housemates used to go to the treatment center for meetings. Now, Gjevre said, the counselors come to them to minimize the number of people in one space. Counselors and clients can wear masks, but like they are everywhere else, masks are in short supply in the Twin Cities.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

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Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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