COVID-19 Pandemic Spurs Action to Address Domestic Violence & Mental Health Care Concerns

(BPT) - As people continue to adjust their daily lives in the era of COVID-19, some law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups across the country have raised concerns about the potential for a rise in domestic violence incidents. An issue that could lead to even more people requiring services to support their mental health.

According to a recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, which covered the week of May 7 to May 12, an estimated 34.4% of adults across the country reported symptoms of either anxiety or depression. Among those more likely to report symptoms were Black and Hispanic adults.

In California, officials believe domestic violence is increasing but the survivors are stuck at home with their abusers and can’t alert authorities. In Los Angeles, for example, calls related to domestic violence dropped by 18% from March 19 through April 15 as compared with the same period in 2019. In Santa Clara Co. on the other hand, the local Sheriff’s Office has seen a 46% increase in calls for service related to family violence.

California launches first-of-its-kind initiative

The state of California is also stepping up. Earlier this year, the California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., and Karen Mark, M.D., Medical Director at the state Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), unveiled an initiative to address the public health crisis of toxic stress from childhood trauma. Called the ACEs Aware Initiative, it is a first-of-its-kind statewide effort for California health care providers to screen patients for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that increase the likelihood of ACE-associated health conditions due to toxic stress.

While the pandemic has necessitated immense attention to our community’s physical health and safety, it will also be critical to keep an eye on the potential long-term health effects of this prolonged pandemic. Providing early intervention and support from stakeholders across the health care spectrum will be critical as we prepare to face this challenge in the coming months.

Some in healthcare are stepping up to help

With high demand and limited resources in some California communities, Health Net stepped up to meet the future demands for mental health services by awarding a $100,000 grant to Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU), a private, nonprofit health professions university in Willowbrook, California. The grant, which supported several important initiatives, includes residency training and the development of a tele-psychiatry curriculum so new physicians can gain experience in delivering medical care through telemedicine.

Earlier this month, the company also announced it was awarding 138 grants, totaling $13.4 million, to support the establishment and expansion of telehealth and telephonic services for California providers serving Medi-Cal members. To date, that’s the largest grant of cash dedicated to this cause by a health plan in California. Most importantly, it will support clinics and local physicians serving underrepresented minorities and under-resourced communities who need it most.

“There is undoubtedly a mental healthcare crisis in our communities, and we know that more needs to be done to give our residents the much needed services they require,” said Robert B. Vargas, MD, MHP, Assistant Dean, Health Policy and Inter-Professional Education, College of Medicine. “That is why we are so thankful to our healthcare partners like Health Net, who have helped us take concrete steps to improve our community member’s ability to access the mental health services they need, when they need it, and on their own terms.”

In partnership with its parent company, Centene, Health Net is partnering with peer warm lines in California, dedicated call centers for mild to moderate behavioral health needs. As part of this partnership, Health Net will allocate funds to assist warm lines in meeting the demand for increased capacity brought on by the pandemic.

"The donation that the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF) is receiving from Health Net will be used to help increase the capacity of the California Peer-Run Warm Line including adding staff, improving training programs, and adding needed technology and equipment, as more Californians are seeking non-judgmental emotional support due to COVID- 19,” said Mark Salazar, MHA, Executive Director, Mental Health Association of San Francisco, one of the organizations who will receive support from Health Net. “This generous donation will help ensure MHASF continues to have the resources to be there when someone is experiencing the distress, anxiety, and fear triggered by COVID-19 that can impact their mental and physical well-being."

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