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Telehealth helps connect clients to addiction services during pandemic

Providers at Huther Doyle have been offering telehealth visits to clients during the pandemic. (WHAM photo){ }
Providers at Huther Doyle have been offering telehealth visits to clients during the pandemic. (WHAM photo)
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The pandemic has changed the way we connect with one another.

That has especially impacted services for addiction.

At Huther Doyle, the move to virtual was almost overnight.

"We had to really show we were comfortable with it," explained Joel Yager, senior director of clinical services. "We had to get them comfortable with it so we didn't lose anyone along the way."

He says when the pandemic hit, and they turned to telehealth for their addiction services, something interesting happened.

"Our engagement population has almost doubled. The amount of people that went ahead and embraced telehealth - it's almost like sitting in your living room with a friend. You call them, you're having a bad day."

Yager believes it's about convenience. Clients don't need to worry about finding child care, transportation, or scheduling an in-person session.

And their reach has expanded in other ways.

"We are attracting people we never would have reached before: people in rural areas, people in areas with no services at all," Yager said.

In August, Rochester Regional Health's chemical dependency program launched a new addiction hotline.

"COVID only made us realize that we needed to do even more because of the nature of addiction," said Katelyn Gregory, manager of central access for chemical dependency at RRH.

The safeline, as it's called, has a simple goal: providing easier access to help.

"We saw a 276 percent increase in volume of calls coming in within the first month," Gregory said. "It told us immediately we were heading in the right direction."

Clients are immediately connected with someone who evaluates their needs.

"Making it as easy as possible for people to have multiple avenues to come to us - that's our work to do, not theirs. That's for us to figure out and make sure we are doing," Gregory said.

Right now, 17 people work that safeline, with plans to expand.

And a message to those with addiction issues looking for help:

"You are not alone, you are not the only one feeling this way and if you don't call, you'll never know what is ahead," Gregory said. "So what I would say just give it a shot. Give us a call, see where it goes."

RRH's safeline is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also call to schedule an evening session if those hours don't work with your schedule. Call (585) 723-SAFE.