Grant helps Southwest Solutions implement telehealth during COVID crisis

April 17th, 2020
Sisters Zoey (left) and Precious have been enjoying the telehealth sessions with their counselors at Southwest Solutions.

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund has awarded Southwest Solutions a $50,000 grant to help implement a telehealth program in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the necessity of shelter-in-place and physical distancing measures.

The telehealth program enables access to mental health counseling for children, youth and adults by using electronic communications to connect our behavioral healthcare consumers with their counselors and psychiatrists.

Southwest Solutions is one of 61 organizations to share in the nearly $3M of funding from the Health Fund to accelerate the transition to telehealth in the state. The Health Fund expedited the grantmaking due to public health risks of in-person care because of COVID.

As the shelter-in-place executive order from Governor Whitmer was imminent, Southwest Solutions had to move quickly to shift its mental health services to telehealth, which had not been part of our counseling program before. Responding to the crisis, the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) made changes to its reimbursement model to compensate community mental health providers like Southwest Solutions for telehealth services to consumers.

Southwest Solutions is using its Health Fund grant to support billing services, staff training, consumer education, compliance, and best practices in order to implement telehealth successfully.

“We are grateful to the Health Fund for its important support during this difficult and uncertain time when those we serve in our counseling programs need us more than ever because of the increased stress, anxiety and isolation they are experiencing,” said Joseph Tasse, CEO (interim) of Southwest Solutions.

Dewand Guyton, a Wraparound Counselor at Southwest Solutions, said that children and families he works with are very appreciative of the telehealth opportunity so they can remain connected to therapy and continue to meet their recovery goals. In addition, Dewand is able to counsel more families during the day because of the extra time he has since he is not travelling from home to home.

One of the families that Dewand counsels has two young sisters, Precious and Zoey, who are recovering from trauma they experienced before they were adopted.

“I have built a close relationship with Precious and Zoey and we have been able to maintain the relationship with video calls,” Dewand said. “The girls enjoy seeing my face on their computer or phone at home. Kids are incredibly comfortable with this technology and find it engaging.”

Once the COVID crisis subsides and in-person counseling is possible again, Dewand believes that families would benefit from a combination of in-person care and telehealth.

Telehealth is certainly the wave of the future. The COVID crisis has brought this future into focus sooner than expected. The hope is that this therapeutic tool will expand access to behavioral healthcare for those in need and even enhance outcomes.

Four other funders partnered with the Health Fund to provide the telehealth funding to awardees. Those partners are the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, the Metro Health Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

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