PITTSBURG — Crawford County Mental Health Center is implementing changes to keep clients and employees safe by using telehealth.

The federal government has relaxed some HIPAA requirements for use of technology, Crawford County Mental Health Executive Administrator Michael Ehling said. The telehealth option allows health professionals to provide services by phone or through the use of a video chat application through computers and other electronic devices.

“We’ve moved in the direction of using a lot more technology to reach our consumers and clients in order to mitigate the spread of the virus,” Ehling said.

Not only is therapy available through telehealth from the patients’ home but the mental health center also created what they call a Zoom room at three locations. These rooms are reserved for patients who do not have a smartphone or other technology. Each patient is screened before entering the building. The patient would then go to the Zoom room where they can visit with a therapist using a computer with a camera.

“It’s creating opportunities for us,” Crawford County Mental Health Clinical Director Amy Glines said, adding that the ability to use technology to visit has also helped university students finish their social work practicums. Previously, the student and student supervisors would meet in person for on-the-job learning; now they are communicating online.

Glines said that patients can still get their medications refilled and talk to a mental health professional.

“I think the number one concern we are hearing from patients is with all of these things shutting down, ‘am I still going to be able to get my treatment?’” Glines said, “And the answer is yes, but it might look a little different than before.”

Glines provided a handful of ways to lower anxiety over the coronavirus situation. One of those was to get data from the CDC, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the local health department to avoid misinformation. She also encouraged people to take a break from the media.

“We can get pretty overwhelmed by the negatives of everything,” Glines said. “If you need to self-monitor and take a break from that, it would be a good idea.”

Glines also shared a “challenge” from an article she read from the Coalition for Behavioral Health and the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services. The challenge is called the Strive for Five challenge.

People are to strive to make five contacts with other people per day either by phone, talking across the fence to neighbors or through video chat, Glines said.

“So the challenge while you are in quarantine is making five social contacts a day to feel less isolated and I think that’s a great campaign,” she said.

Glines also said “exercise is phenomenal for anxiety.” She encouraged yoga and meditation as well.

“They are free, you can do them in your home, you can do them in your yard,” she said. “All three of those are the trinity for interventions with anxiety.”

She also recommends keeping a routine.

“Habitualize it — a shower, get dressed and get out of those pajamas, eat healthy,” Glines said, adding that the mental health center is “discouraging people from using alcohol or substances even though they might have not been reporting for work because those have a negative effect on the body and can be a bad habit for someone.”

Ehling and Glines said mental health is considered essential health care and the mental health center will remain open. Although the lobbies are closed, people can reach Crawford County Health services to schedule, reschedule, or ask additional questions at the following phone numbers: 620-231-5130 for Adult Services, 620-232-3228 for Children’s Services and 620-724-8806 for Substance Abuse.