Counties are a significant contributor to supporting and maintaining the health and well-being of residents and annual invest over invest $83 billion in community health systems, including behavioral health services. Through 750 health authorities and community providers, county governments plan and operate community-based services for people with mental illness and substance use disorders. Behavioral health care is an important service that becomes even more critical during a crisis. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, counties are implementing changes to policy and practice to continue assisting individuals managing mental illness and/or substance use disorders. More and more, counties are exploring remote service delivery to meet needs while complying with social distancing directives.

Johnson County, Kan.

The Johnson County Mental Health Center is providing phone and curbside services for medication refills and using Zoom for psychosocial groups. Individuals experiencing a mental health crisis or those supporting someone in crisis are encouraged to call the Center’s 24-hour crisis line for assistance. In-person crisis care is available but is only recommended when calling is not an option or the situation demands an in-person intervention. All individuals entering mental health offices must submit to a temperature check and COVID-19 screen before meeting with staff. If a person screens positive but is experiencing an acute behavioral health crisis, the individual is given a mask and escorted to a separate location for additional care.

DuPage County, Ill.

The DuPage County Health Department is conducting counseling and psychiatric appointments by telehealth (phone or online). Individuals seeking to start mental health and/or substance abuse treatment can schedule intake appointments through telehealth. Urgent in-person psychiatric evaluations and evaluations for individuals in a mental health crisis are continuing but with social distancing precautions. Residents can still receive on-site injections for long-acting anti-psychotic medications and medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorders and the department continues to operate its 12-bed crisis residential program for community members experiencing a mental health crisis. In addition, residents may contact the crisis line 24 hours a day to be connected to emergency counselors for immediate assistance.

Pickens County, S.C.

Behavioral Health Services of Pickens County is continuing to provide treatment to clients with modified operations to honor social distancing and discourage the spread of the disease among staff and clients. The office is requesting that visitors needing an intake appointment call ahead and follow all CDC guidelines related to social distancing and infection control upon arrival. In addition, everyone entering the office must submit to a temperature check and COVID-19 screen before meeting with staff. After completing in-person intakes, staff reconvene with clients to schedule assessments and future appointments via telehealth.

Addressing the needs of individuals managing mental illness and substance use disorders remains a critical component to mitigating the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, counties will continue to play a significant role in providing vital behavioral health services to maintain the health and wellbeing of people in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment.

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