How Clinical & Support Options Acted Fast to Plan for Pandemic Surge

Doctor taking notes on clipboard with patient.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been universally profound – every person has been touched by the crisis in one way or another. For certain vulnerable segments of the population, however, the impacts of the pandemic have been felt more acutely.

Clinical & Support Options (CSO), a nonprofit community behavioral and mental health organization based in western Massachusetts, provides comprehensive services to individuals and families with multiple, complex issues. The organization serves about 19,000 clients across 19 locations with a team of nearly 750 multi-disciplinary staff members.

The organization has an especially robust housing and homelessness program, dubbed Friends of the Homeless, which not only provides warm beds and hot showers to more than 1,000 men and women every year, but also assigns case workers to each guest to help them navigate a raft of issues.

Under normal circumstances, it’s a lot to coordinate. But when the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into high gear this spring, CSO needed to find new ways to care for a client base that was feeling outsized effects from the pandemic. The nonprofit, however, was able to quickly adapt, undertaking a few key initiatives.

A big-tent movement

The Friends of the Homeless shelter and resource center in Springfield typically hosts 130-160 guests every night. While the arrangements aren’t cramped, guests do stay on cots in quasi-communal settings, so CSO staff were concerned about the potential for the virus to easily spread among the population. At the same time, city officials wanted to be prepared for the worst at the forefront of the pandemic by putting overflow facilities in place in case local hospitals reached capacity.

City leaders, working with CSO, quickly erected three large tents in a parking lot across from the Friends of the Homeless facility. The new tent facilities – sturdy, constructed structures – served as a triage point where people could be tested and quarantined if needed.

Since the Friends of the Homeless program offers holistic care, including nursing services, to guests, CSO staff wanted to ensure that level of support could continue whether guests were staying in the brick-and-mortar shelter or in the tents outside.

“The challenge was that we needed much more integration of our electronic health records because we offer integrated care to all of our shelter guests,” says Geoffrey Oldmixon, Associate VP of Marketing and Development at Clinical & Support Options. “That needed to be done in a reliable way, so that’s where we turned to Comcast Business – we needed infrastructure and wireless connectivity.”

By making wireless Internet available within the tent structures, staff were ready to instantly pull up health records and other relevant information to help provide the same standards of care and service offered inside the shelter were maintained in the tents.

To ensure guests could remain comfortable, CSO also provided Comcast Business TV services in the tent.

As the initial surge of the pandemic came and went, the extra measures and precautions the Friends of the Homeless program took inside the shelter – social distancing, extra cleanliness protocols, and more – paid off. The tents fortunately went largely unused, but their presence allowed CSO and city officials to face the pandemic knowing they had important resources available, should they need them.

Taking care remote

CSO services go far beyond housing and homelessness. They also provide family support and community-based programs, as well as services for community members in crisis and recovery. Before the pandemic, most of those services happened in face-to-face settings at any of the organization’s locations across Western Massachusetts.

CSO has been a Comcast Business customer since 2013, using the company’s voice services, broadband connections and multi-site fiber network to help keep all functions – both patient-facing and back-office – running smoothly.

When COVID-19 forced lockdowns across the state, CSO had to adapt to the changing needs of not only the communities it serves, but also its vast network of employees and providers. In a care setting, that meant one major change, above all: increased use of telehealth.

Oldmixon says that even before the pandemic hit the organization provided telehealth offerings, but only a small fraction of patients actually availed themselves of those options. Now, the vast majority of appointments are conducted virtually.

Getting some patients engaged with telehealth has been challenging, says Oldmixon – there will always be people who prefer face-to-face interactions. But he says that the organization has also seen an uptick in demand among new patients who otherwise might not have engaged them. Oldmixon thinks part of that is likely due to increased levels of anxiety amid the pandemic, but that some patients have been spurred on because of the ease of access, a bright spot amid challenging circumstances.

“Right now, you can do appointments over a wide variety of platforms – there are all sorts of options,” says Oldmixon. “So that means our broadband services are key. Being online and having that access to telehealth is imperative right now and it will be for the foreseeable future.”

See how this non-profit organization quickly pivoted to meet client needs during the pandemic.

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