Access to behavioral health services during COVID

Author: Robin Henderson, Psy.D., chief executive, Behavioral Health, Providence Oregon

Not surprisingly, COVID and its effects have increased the community’s need for behavioral health services. As the mental health toll of the pandemic continues to affect people of all ages, Providence Behavioral Health is increasing access to care, both for in-person and virtual visits.

Two new behavioral health clinics open

Providence Behavioral Health recently opened two new spaces for our patients – an expansion of the Providence Adult and Adolescent Eating Disorders Program at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center and a new adult outpatient therapy clinic at Providence Portland Medical Center.

Last December, the eating disorders program opened in its new, expanded space on the 9th floor medical office building on the Providence St. Vincent campus. The new space is built to better accommodate our patients and to increase our capacity to meet community need.

For more information or to refer a patient, call: 503-215-9396.

In February, the new Behavioral Health adult outpatient therapy clinic opened in Building A on the Providence Portland campus. There is a significant community need for therapy, and this new program increases our capacity to take additional therapy patients – helping to address a significant lack of resources in the community.

For more information or to refer a patient, call: 971-345-5060.

Note: Please be aware that we will do our best to accommodate new referrals to meet your patients’ needs. However, they may need to be placed on a waiting list due to increased demand for services in the community. We regularly review waiting lists for acuity and are adding providers to accommodate increased demand.

Effects of COVID on kids’ mental health

Kids and adolescents are among the hardest hit when it comes to the long-term behavioral health effects of COVID. Our team of behavioral health experts at Providence Oregon has only begun to see the full effect of the pandemic’s disruptions on children and teens. We expect to see this trend continue for several years.

While older kids might experience depression and other more immediate conditions, younger children may have developmental delays, such as speech challenges and learning issues, which can take years to overcome.

A U.S. surgeon general advisory says suicide rates among Black children younger than 13 have risen rapidly in recent years, with Black children nearly twice as likely to die by suicide as white children.

The advisory also notes that socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents – such as those growing up in poverty – are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than others.

Like most health systems, we’re seeing that many of our behavioral health services for children, young people and adults are experiencing wait lists. Sometimes the wait lists are weeks, while others are even longer.

Once young patients complete the treatment regimens, which typically last six to eight weeks, finding continuing care for them is a challenge because few providers are accepting new patients. Additionally, many mental health providers across the U.S. are leaving the profession.

The mental health crisis in children has reached the point in Oregon that recent statistics show suicide is the leading cause of death for adolescents.

The role of telehealth

A shining light during the era of behavioral health during COVID has been the tremendous growth of our telehealth services to meet our clients’ needs.

We provide telehealth services to our behavioral health clients via key access points that include: (1) through our primary care clinics, where behavioral health experts are imbedded to improve client access, and (2) in our specialty psychiatric clinics, which include our Senior Psychiatric Clinic at Providence Milwaukie Hospital.

Here's a look at telehealth behavioral health visits between April 2020 and February 2022.

  • Integrated behavioral health in primary care: 66.5% of visits were completed using telehealth (71,303 telehealth visits out of 107,304 completed visits)
  • Providence Medical Group psychiatric clinics: 90% of visits were completed using telehealth (61,139 telehealth visits out of 69,917 completed visits)

Thank you to providers throughout Oregon who are working closely with Providence Behavioral Health to help meet the growing needs of the communities we serve.


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About the Author

The inScope content team focuses on bringing you the latest in clinical news from our team of world-class medical providers and physician leaders.

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