Baystate Franklin’s virtual psychiatric program helping patients during pandemic

  • Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s Partial Hospitalization Program at 48 Sanderson St., Suite 204, is currently only seeing patients using telehealth means. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s Partial Hospitalization Program at 48 Sanderson St., Suite 204, is currently only seeing patients using telehealth means. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2020 6:52:50 PM

GREENFIELD — Psychologist Daniel O’Donnell says COVID-19 has adversely affected many people, and a well-established psychiatric treatment program offered by Baystate Franklin Medical Center is ready to help.

“People have found themselves isolated, forced out of work, challenged in so many ways during the pandemic,” O’Donnell said. “People who never felt they needed these types of services, but because of circumstances find they do right now, are taking advantage of the program.”

The Partial Hospitalization Program, which serves Franklin County, the North Quabbin area, Hampshire County and the rest of the Pioneer Valley, is a short-term intensive group therapy program with diagnostic and medication services for adults 18 years old and older. Treatment days currently run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

O’Donnell said individualized treatment plans typically last 10 to 12 days over a two- to three-week period. Care is tailored to individual needs. Staff members conduct a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation of each patient and then make recommendations for medication and treatment.

“People learn how to set realistic daily goals, manage their symptoms with coping skills, connect with others and get support from them,” he explained.

Carol LaValley, relations coordinator for the Partial Hospitalization Program, said it helps people overcome harmful habits including alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm and obsessive thinking, and helps patients maintain safety and prevent relapse.

“People are suffering right now,” O’Donnell said. “Many have severe anxiety, depression, even not-so-acute psychotic disorders that are exacerbated by the pandemic. We have nurse practitioners, therapists, psychologists, counselors and others who can help.”

O’Donnell said 95 percent of the program is group therapy that is professionally facilitated and also offers peer support. There is also some individual care given to patients. The program has been in existence for 26 years in Greenfield and has been a face-to-face program, but because of COVID-19, it is currently being offered virtually.

“Social isolation is big for people right now,” he said. “We’re addressing that and people’s concerns around it.”

LaValley and O’Donnell said Baystate Franklin’s program had to quickly transition to a telehealth model because of the pandemic.

“We knew we had to continue treatment, but couldn’t do it in the typical way,” O’Donnell said. “People are participating from home, now, but at some point we’ll be able to return to in-person treatment. Being face-to-face is valuable, but there are other ways and they work. We’ve learned that through the pandemic.”

The public health crisis, he said, allowed the team to look at different ways the program can be offered. It will eventually return to its “normal” state, but there will probably be other options as well.

LaValley said people self-refer themselves to the program — many either don’t have a therapist, a primary care physician or both, but need support. Staff members help their patients find therapists and physicians for when they leave the program.

“Some people have participated in the program in the past and have returned during the pandemic,” O’Donnell said. “Some people have needed treatment like this but are fearful to come to the hospital. They don’t have to do that, but can get the care they need. This can be done from the safety of their own homes.”

O’Donnell and LaValley suggest seeking help if you are experiencing severe mental health symptoms and/or life crises and finding it difficult to function; or your current outpatient support system isn’t enough, but you don’t need hospitalization.

To participate, patients need a laptop or desktop computer with a webcam and speakers or headphones, or a cellphone with a front-facing camera.

The Partial Hospitalization Program at 48 Sanderson St., Suite 204, is currently only seeing patients using telehealth means. For more information, call 413-773-4444.


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