Keeping telehealth services funded
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BRONX TIMES REPORTER,12 NOVVEMBER 6-12, 2020 BTR
BY ALLISON GROLNICK
Like many New Yorkers experiencing
homelessness, Michael faced obstacles
on his path to a healthy life,
including PTSD and substance use disorder.
He was determined to improve
his well-being, but once COVID-19 hit,
the road to recovery and housing stability
became more diffi cult. His therapist
had to close for the duration of
the pandemic, and he felt unsafe seeking
in-person medical care.
The pandemic could have derailed
his progress, but because he was referred
to telehealth services, Michael
has stayed healthy. As a result of his
progress, Michael was recently accepted
into a new supportive housing
development in the Bronx, where he
plans to move in the coming months.
An emergency order from New
York State allowing telehealth visits to
be reimbursed as if they were in-person
helped Michael and countless others
during the height of the pandemic.
Unfortunately, state reimbursement
for the telehealth services is in jeopardy,
with the emergency policy set to
expire in January. State lawmakers
must make telehealth reimbursement
permanent—to ensure safety amid
COVID-19, to support the immediate
and long-term mental health of the
most vulnerable New Yorkers, and to
make services sustainable for providers.
My organization, Project Renewal,
is a frontline health care provider
that treats New Yorkers experiencing
homelessness, including Michael,
and addresses health conditions that
can be exacerbated by housing insecurity.
Throughout the pandemic, telehealth
has helped us keep patients
safe by reducing in-person interactions,
and prevented additional visits
to overburdened hospitals.
Our psychiatry department has
been seeing patients at 99% of our
pre-pandemic capacity, conducting
over 1,400 visits with an expanded
team of 19 providers since March.
Like Michael, patients across the
board have been making signifi cant
progress in their therapy, reporting
that they can speak more openly
about things like trauma in sessions
that feel safe and private.
We are one of dozens of organizations
successfully offering these
services. The emergency reimbursement
order ensured that services remained
sustainable, despite physical
offi ces closing across the state. A recent
survey by the New York State
Council for Community Behavioral
Healthcare found that telehealth
comprised 90% of visits and 86% of
revenue for behavioral health providers
during COVID-19.1 If we
go back to the pre-COVID system,
where telehealth visits were only reimbursed
at a fraction of the price of
in-person visits, many healthcare
providers will be unable to continue
caring for the New Yorkers they
New York must ensure that New
Yorkers like Michael can continue to
get the treatment they need during
the pandemic and beyond.
Allison Grolnick is Chief Medical
Offi cer at Project Renewal, a New York
City homeless services nonprofi t.
Young Male Doctor Video Chatting On Laptop In Clinic Getty Images