WUFT News By Walter Harwood December 2, 2020 Health and Science
The COVID-19 pandemic upended mental health and substance abuse treatment programs across the country. In Gainesville, a new report from Meridian Behavioral Healthcare details how treatment via telehealth massively increased in popularity during the first half of 2020.
Meridian provides services to North Central Florida and has a strong presence in Alachua County. Telehealth visits increased by over 500%, with 9,608 patients participating in over 31,000 remote visits, according to its annual report, which covers the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2019, to June 3, 2020.
Meridian states in the report they have utilized telehealth services for over five years. When the pandemic hit, they scaled their telehealth program by a factor of 10 during a two-week period to meet the initial burst of demand. Qualified patients can receive a tablet from Meridian to facilitate continued visits.
Federal and state regulators have made it easier for doctors to prescribe medications such as buprenorphine, which treats opioid addiction, via telehealth visits. But the pandemic has severely limited access to traditional recovery options, highlighting the important role community health centers have to play in treating mental health and substance abuse patients.
A graph included in the annual report details which diagnoses were most commonly treated at Meridian during the most recent fiscal year.
Data also shows despite the pandemic, Meridian was able to increase the number of services it provided by 11%, thanks in large part to an increased reliance on telehealth visits.
Meridian also streamed a pre-recorded video on Facebook and YouTube Tuesday night, titled, “42 Minutes,” in place of holding its annual in-person board dinner.
Don Savoie, Meridian CEO and President, gave opening remarks, describing how mental health treatment evolved to meet the needs of a community hit hard by the pandemic.
“Even with the disruption, we were able to do some really amazing things,” Savoie said. “We were roughly two weeks out to three weeks out for (patients to receive) treatment. With the pandemic and really a growth in telehealth and other innovations we were able to increase access to care and treatment to same day and next day.”
Meridian also saw revenue top $50 million for the first time in its history despite the financial uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic.
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