RE-OPENING YOUR OFFICE IN A PANDEMIC.
“If one thing has become clear, the need for mental health services has increased during this time….”
“….In the event you are planning on re-opening your office, precautions must be taken.”
If one thing has perhaps defined 2020 more than anything (yes, even more than the Presidential election), it is Covid-19. In the span of eight months, the world changed in ways that could not possibly be imagined before March of 2020. The world of healthcare and mental health, far from being immune to the impact, have been indelibly reshaped in the face of this global pandemic. One of the largest impacts that Covid-19 has had on mental health and healthcare practices is how to continue to operate a business safely while providing critical and much-needed services to the community.
If one thing has become clear, the need for mental health services has increased during this time. (Epidemic within the pandemic:’ Mental health problems increase during COVID ). And though a vaccine may now be on the horizon, the pandemic is only getting worse. Thus, it is imperative that mental health and health care practices ensure that they have implemented strategies and policies that will enable them to operate safely. Most importantly, take precautions and steps necessary in the event that a client or staff member is exposed to or contracts Covid-19.
While most mental health practices have transitioned to providing services via telehealth only, those who have begun to open for in-person sessions may want to consider having a COVID-19 waiver for clients to sign outlining the preventative measures taken by the office and its limits. Clients must understand that receiving services in-person, even with the best precautions taken, holds inherent risk. By signing this waiver, the practice can ask the client to waive liability for the practice should the client contract Covid-19 despite the practice’s best efforts.
Before clients return to the office, it is crucial to inform the client of self-screening guidelines and the importance of not coming to the office if they are symptomatic or exposed to someone with Covid-19. The client can be asked qualifying questions to ensure that the client is not infectious or exposed to anyone with Covid-19 symptoms. Offices can also take client temperatures upon arrival. You might also instruct clients on who to contact if they should become symptomatic or test positive in the days after an appointment. In the form we draft for our practices, we emphasize to clients the importance of considering teletherapy when it’s an option.
When developing plans to reopen, practices must check their local and state ordinances regarding reopening. As Covid-19 cases have begun spiking across the country, many locales have increased their regulations regarding Covid-19. In Maryland, for example, masks are required to be worn indoors at all times; thus, practitioners, their staff, and their clients are required to wear masks during in-person therapy sessions and any other parts of the office, including any common areas.
Additional precautions might include prohibiting anyone other than clients with a scheduled appointment in the office. Waiting room procedures can also be adjusted as a precaution, such as having clients wait in their car before sessions and having anyone accompanying them remaining in their car or outside the building. In Maryland and many other states, there is a limit on the number of people allowed inside an office at any one time.
When scheduling clients, you should consider scheduling extra time between sessions to provide clients time to arrive and leave and encourage social distancing. Extra time will also provide your therapists time to wipe down surfaces in their office and sanitize. Sanitation procedures may include a system for cleaning pens or items used during the office visit. Consider having a “dirty bin” where items that need to be sanitized can be placed.
Of course, none of these procedures will be useful if your office staff does not know them and is not following them. Therefore, it is crucial to educate your staff in writing and have them sign their understanding. Holding staff accountable is critical; set the expectation that these are mandatory to follow or risk discipline.
Right now, Covid-19 cases are skyrocketing. Experts predict the worse is still to come this winter. As such, teletherapy is still recommended for therapy for clients when possible, and this is something that you may want to communicate with clients, that it is the Practice’s preference to do teletherapy whenever possible.
However, in the event you are planning on re-opening your office, precautions must be taken. The suggestions made in this article, when implemented, may help you so you can do so safely in this unprecedented time.