A wide range of challenges were reported by the behavioral health community in New York State during the early months of the coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a study published in the Community Mental Health Journal.

Due to the recency of the pandemic, analysis of the specific barriers and challenges faced by behavioral healthcare providers and organizations has not yet been conducted.

To qualitatively assess the impact of COVID-19 and associated policies, survey data from 295 employees of behavioral health organizations in the state of New York were analyzed. Of the respondents, 37.2% worked at organizations located in New York City, 17% of respondents were Presidents or Chief Executive Officers, and 16% were staff members below the director level. Survey data was collected throughout New York from April 8, 2020 to May 1, 2020.


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The most frequently reported concern was related to business operations as the decrease in services performed, the increase of program closures, and the increases in cost for technology and safety supplies strained financial performance. Many other concerns were centered around the quick transition to telehealth, which was challenging for both clients and providers. Clients often did not have access to sufficient technology or lacked interest in receiving care remotely. Providers found obstacles in their ability to conduct effective therapeutic sessions, as well as more administrative aspects, such as receiving proper reimbursement, implementing HIPAA-compliant platforms, and completing legally-binding documents.

Understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on behavioral health organizations is particularly important as these services support vulnerable populations that may be at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection and other negative consequences related to the pandemic. Financial concerns may have been the most frequently reported theme due to the nature of the reporting population, with over half (54%) in roles related to business administration.

Limitations to this study include the over-representation of outpatient programs (45.5% of respondents compared with 14.9% of mental health programs in New York State) and the underrepresentation of residential services (10.5% of respondents compared with 30.1% of state programs). Additionally, the use of data from individuals in just one state who voluntarily participated prevents generalization and may bias the data. The higher proportion of individuals from upper management in the responding organizations also may impact the results.

Future research including data from various regions and a more equal distribution of employees at various levels of seniority at the organizations are warranted.

Reference

Murphy AA, Karyczak S, Dolce JN, et al. Challenges experienced by behavioral health organizations in New York resulting from COVID-19: A qualitative analysis. [published online October 23, 2020]. Community Ment Health J. doi: 10.1007/s10597-020-00731-3