by Katherine Perryman
The current pandemic has affected communities everywhere in several different ways, from health concerns to economic concerns, resulting in a large back-order for necessary medical supplies. Grant-Blackford Mental Health (GBMH) is one organization feeling the impact of the back-order.
GBMH provides mental health and substance use disorder services for the Grant and Blackford County communities under the programs of Cornerstone, Keystone, Milestone, Hester Hollis Concern Center, and the Community Support Program.
The medical director for GBMH, Michael Conn M.D., shared:
There’s a lot of things that a typical hospital would have that we normally do not have. For example, the plastic gowns. We don’t have those sort of things because they’re a safety risk on an inpatient psychiatric unit. Face masks, the plastic shields that people wear that are clear to cover their eyes and their face, we don’t normally have those. Those were never in the building.
One such item in particularly short supply are surgical-style face masks.
Dr. Conn said, “As soon as the pandemic entered into the consciousness of the public, many of those masks have gone missing.”
Cornerstone offers outpatient and inpatient mental health and substance-related services and is the access point for crisis services. Masks were offered as a courtesy upon entering the building although it was not required to wear one.
“As a matter of fact we have stations throughout the building where there are tissues and a box of masks and hand sanitizer with a little placard that says ‘If you’re not feeling well, please feel free to take one’ for the protection of other people… Those were amongst the ones that went missing.”
The low inventory has started to cause some concern for the GBMH staff.
Dr. Conn shares that concern.
There is a subset of our patients that because of their mental illness are impulsive and have trouble with personal boundaries and therefore have trouble with social distancing… The people we take care of frequently violate personal space and so not having personal protective equipment (PPE) is cause for a lot of anxiety… Right now, we have very little. And we certainly don’t have enough to put a mask on every person every day.
Grant-Blackford Mental Health has taken precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, including conducting meetings with clients through video conferencing and other telemedicine methods rather than continuing face-to-face appointments. Social distancing is also practiced during professional staff meetings. However, this is not feasible for all clients and/or services GBMH provides.
Some clients make arrangements to come in for long-acting injectable medications such as Vivitrol, which is used to treat a number of substance use disorders. Face-to-face interactions continue on Cornerstone’s inpatient psychiatric unit.
For other populations, like the seriously mentally ill, it is becoming increasingly more important to provide home-based services, as Dr. Conn explains.
We have to see them face to face. To do that, we have to come to people’s homes. And sometimes people are really sick. So to do that, those people [employees] need masks, gloves. In those cases a plastic apron and shoe covers… Certainly, we at Cornerstone need that personal protective equipment but there is a need throughout the agency. Especially for those people who don’t have the luxury of staying in the building and have to go out into the community and interact with our patients and clients in their homes.
The shortage on necessary personal protective equipment is concerning for both staff and clients seeking treatment. Protecting staff also means protecting patients.
In typical practice when you see a patient with a suspected contagious infection, you put on personal protective equipment for the interaction and when the interaction is over, you throw that used PPE away and put on fresh PPE for the next interaction. We are hearing stories from all over the world that medical providers are having to re-use PPE. These things are so valuable these days… Now it’s a treasure… There is a national back order… We are without a definite delivery date because of the high demand for these items… The point of staff wearing PPE is so of course we ourselves don’t get infected, but so we also don’t spread infection to our patients, our loved ones and the community.
Grant-Blackford Mental Health is now accepting donations from the community. GBMH’s on-going community partner, Atlas Foundry Company, donated a total of four boxes of N95 face masks. In addition, Indiana Wesleyan University Health Clinic donated seven boxes of faces masks, which included three boxes of N95 masks, and four additional boxes of gloves.
Dr. Conn and staff were very grateful to hear of the donations. “I think that it’s in times like these that Americans really show what America is all about. And that’s coming together as communities, pitching in, demonstrating their endless generosity and creativity.”
Items still needed are general PPE such as masks, gloves, shoe covers, head covers, plastic aprons with sleeves or plastic smocks, and face shields.
The good news is that Dr. Conn does not feel there is a need for hand washing agents. He said, “Currently we don’t need hand sanitizer. We have lots and lots of soap, which is better anyway”.
If anyone in the community is able and willing to help provide donations, please call 765-662-3971. Donations are also being accepted directly at Cornerstone at 505 N. Wabash Ave, Marion, IN. Please use the back entrance as other entrances have been limited for COVID-19 screening purposes.