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Babylon making Telehealth part of permanent substance abuse treatment

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Babylon Town’s Telehealth model for substance abuse counseling is being permanently incorporated into the town’s
treatment center after it was used successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social worker Erin Wirth, seen outside the Beacon outside the Beacon Family Wellness Center last Friday. Credit: Jeff Bachner
Social worker Erin Wirth, seen outside the Beacon outside the Beacon Family Wellness Center last Friday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

By Denise M. Bonilla
Updated June 11, 2020 4:16 PM

A Telehealth model for substance abuse counseling is being permanently incorporated into Babylon Town’s treatment center after being used successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Counseling is often key to helping those with substance abuse issues stay on track so when government buildings were closed to the public in March, counselors at the Beacon Family Wellness Center had to find a new way to reach their clients.

The center, located in North Babylon’s Town Hall Annex, offers chemical dependency treatment services to residents for a fee based on a sliding scale according to income. Beacon currently serves about 215 adolescents and adults.

“We put a plan together pretty quickly where we were able to service all of our clients via telehealth within the first week,” said Delores Bocklet, former director of the center and now a consultant for the town.

The center started with phone sessions but by the second week had transitioned to a video app, which Bocklet said has been so successful, Beacon is now planning to continue to incorporate Telehealth into their work. The town last month signed an annual contract for Telehealth services with TenEleven Group, a software company based in upstate East Amherst for an amount not to exceed $10,000.

The video app allows for a counselor to observe body language and facial expressions, said Erin Wirth, a social worker at the center, and through conversation, can assess whether a client is starting to engage in risky behaviors that may be an indication of a struggle with sobriety.

Living in quarantine during a pandemic has brought new challenges for those with addictions, Bocklet said. Depression and anxiety can lead people to substance abuse, she said, and alcohol imagery has been dominating television and social media.

“Liquor sales are up,” she said. “It’s being glorified as if this is the normal coping strategy … and that’s really dangerous for them.”

Being in isolation, clients are missing out on the benefits of group meetings, Wirth said, so last week the town began holding video group sessions.

“It provides people with that connection with other people who have had similar experiences,” and provides socialization and an exchange of advice, she said.

Monica Prino, program coordinator for the center, said she was surprised to notice that for adolescents, being at home and not having the social pressures of high school has lessened their stress and kept them more on track.

The “no-show” rate for teens has also plummeted, she said, as they don’t have to find a ride to their sessions. That accessibility is why the town will continue with telehealth even after Long Island fully reopens, said Joe Olmedo, the center’s director.

He said the town will still hold video sessions and also allow people to use the technology to participate when they can’t get to in-person group meetings.

“Telehealth gives you a lot of different options,” he said. “There’s always distance, weather, family situations, that prevent people from making it, so I think telehealth will be the solution to some of our problems.”

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