As the world deals with the challenge of COVID-19 and New Mexico acknowledges that it had a rapid uptake early in the pandemic, we want Taos to know we are still serving clients. On March 23, 2020 the NM Department of Health Cabinet Secretary Kathyleen M. Kunkel issued an emergency order closing all businesses and non-profit entities except those deemed essential . The order requires that certain essential businesses must continue to function and under section (6)k of that order, Taos Behavioral Health is considered an essential business and must continue to function.
Following the issuance of the order, TBH began to immediately plan with staff how to continue to function effectively. Meetings between the administration and each individual staff member established that ALL TBH employees were willing to continue to serve clients.
The three critical guides of our service are: a recognition of the ESSENTIAL nature of our service, extreme adherence to SANITATION practices, and CREATIVITY and FLEXIBILITY in meeting clients’ needs. Complying with these principles means that we continually take client family histories to ascertain that there is no illness of recent travel in the family. We have cancelled all large group therapies and meet with no more than 4 in any group (largely in youth services). All clinicians have had direct planning discussions with all of their clients to make appropriate plans. If clients wish to come into the agency, they complete hand washing and sanitation practices and are met personally by their clinician in a safe environment. After every session, areas are sanitized before any other client is served.
TBH has made extensive use of telemedicine via phone, and especially Zoom sessions. Being able to have visual contact with their clinician and keep a regular appointment schedule has been very comforting for clients. We are still serving CCSS families by phoning to check in daily and assisting the school district by delivering meals to those 130 families who do not have transportation.
Youth are transported by parents to TBH offices and receive behavioral support and tutoring from TBH clinicians. Small groups of youth are served in the offices with repeated hand washing and other sanitation practices. For many of these youth, their parents are in jobs which are essential services and thus have time away from home. Clinicians have been assertive in finding support for families in a variety of ways. Twenty hot spots were delivered to families without internet services. TBH has purchased multiple computers to help youth complete schoolwork and stay in touch with teachers and friends.
Clinicians and family members are observing that children and youth are frightened by the constant news about the virus and how it has changed life on a daily basis. While adults feel the stress, they are required to help calm young people with their communication and examples. For adults, taking care of their own emotional needs while dealing with the financial and health needs of the family is a steep challenge.
All of us find uncertainty and a lack of control deeply disturbing. Since the reality changes from day to day, and the lack of research-based knowledge of this virus creates fear, there is a huge need to take control of what you can. This means establishing a schedule, creating new family practices such as walks/hikes together, game times, shared cooking etc. There are a number of web sites that are offering support. The NM Department of Education has some information on how families can support student learning at home: https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/safe-healthy-schools/covid-19-coronavirus/ One of their most important pieces of advice is that you do not need to create a “school setting” but rather find ways to focus learning together about things in everyday life.
We may have this reality for many months. While we must follow the physical distancing requirements, we believe in increasing social connections that are healing and supportive. The TBH staff is committed to being here for you. We are still taking referrals, still providing therapy. We are in this together.
TBH has the largest behavioral health staff in northern New Mexico. We can be reached at 575-758-4297, www.taosbehavioralhealth.org or 105 Bertha St. in Taos.
Mary McPhail Gray is the Board Chair of TBH and can be reached at 575-779-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org