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How addicts in recovery, others with behavioral health issues are getting help amid pandemic
03292020 HELP
Jordan Hussey, executive director of The Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center, known as J’s Place, uses Zoom for a video conference with outreach coordinator David White and recovery coach Will Allison. Photo courtesy J’s Place.

For the past two weeks, J’s Place has been empty, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been busy.

People attending group meetings to address substance use disorders or other behavioral health issues have not been in the recovery facility but cyberspace. 

The Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center, known as J’s Place, closed its Juanita Avenue office in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Executive Director Jordan Hussey said the recovery center is now using Zoom for online meetings.

“We actually have a lot more new people that we haven’t supported before attending those meetings because they are not able to attend their own meetings,” she said. “I think initially there was some fear around not knowing how to use it.”

Recovery coach Will Allison said people have been “very receptive” to the move into the digital realm.

“The meetings around town are not really available right now other than … on the Zoom app or some other outlet,” he said.

The staff of J’s Place has offered technical support, getting on the app early to help with any audio or video problems.

“People feel really connected in spite of the fact that they are quarantined,” Hussey said.

J’s Place offers “anonymous” groups for those recovering from crystal meth use and eating disorders along with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Dr. Devin Vicknair, a behavioral health specialist with Northeast Georgia Health System, said the isolation some may feel during social distancing or sheltering in place can run counter to what is often recommended in mental and behavioral health.

“When people have anxiety or depression or phobias, let alone in a time like this where people have fear of germs and catastrophic thinking, people can shut down and isolate already. That fear keeps them sick,” he said.

Hussey echoed the doctor’s statements, as isolation can be “tricky” for people in recovery. It has been a group effort to check on one another and reach out to those who may feel isolated.

“It’s very natural for us when we’re actively using, but it can be very harmful for us as people in recovery,” she said. “What we are trying to do is stay connected and be wiser in how we connect. We’ve taken for granted the fact that we can’t be around people now.”

Dr. Monica Newton, a Northeast Georgia Physicians Group primary care doctor, said telehealth and telemedicine has been expanding, particularly in the behavioral health field with counseling and therapy.

“Because of the crisis with (coronavirus), I think we’ve been able to rapidly accelerate our ability to reach people with the care they need when they want it, where they want it, not necessarily always having to sit and wait in the doctor’s office to see the provider,” she said.

With some group attendees potentially suffering unemployment because of the coronavirus response, Hussey said they have been trying to connect people with resources for bill assistance, potential temporary work and other meetings that people can attend. 

Other recovery community organizations around the state are also facing the same issue with limiting groups.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or be the end-all be-all for recovery. We want to offer our support but also make accessible what other people are offering, too,” Hussey said.

Christ Lutheran Church in Oakwood offers its space for groups such as AA. The Rev. Andy Seibert said one group has moved to online meetings while respecting the social distancing guidelines.

“The one thing with AA is it’s a lifesaving thing. They make their own decision and we don’t shut them down,” he said.

Telehealth has been picking up in specialist fields including dietary health and mental health, and most insurance companies are covering some sort of telehealth.

“The challenging part is making sure that the patient has access to a phone, a tablet, things such as that,” Vicknair said.

The expansion of telehealth and video conferencing during this coronavirus outbreak will likely have effects on future health care delivery options for patients, Newton said.

“What happens with the virus has taken us out of our comfort zone, and we’re expanding all of these opportunities to touch patients in different ways that I think patients are going to really like and get in the future better service as a result of what we have to do now,” she said.

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