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Mental health provider switches to telecare, eases clients into virtual sessions

Hermanuella Hyppolite, owner of Ibere Mental Health, said she provides services to her patients through video chats and phone calls. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Hermanuella Hyppolite, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, spent nearly a year learning about insurance and regulations while preparing to open her Valley Stream practice, Ibere Mental Health.

The pandemic has prompted Hyppolite to master a new set of regimen, while seeing a spike in demand. She has been sorting through frequently evolving insurance policies and easing clients into virtual sessions.

The pandemic and economic downturn have had such widespread impact that more people are feeling comfortable acknowledging they may need help and seeking care, Hyppolite said.

"Even though they might have been anxious for years, the anxiety is heightened now. So they're more likely to reach out for help because they correlate the anxiety with what's going on right now, even if it's past trauma," said Hyppolite, 35, of Babylon.

Hyppolite said she and her colleagues are working hard to accommodate the growing need for mental health services, particularly the demand for care from professionals of color. Patients of color tend to have better outcomes when working with providers of color, she said. The need for more nurses and doctors of color motivated Hyppolite, a Black veteran who served in an Army combat stress operational control unit, to launch Ibere Mental Health in 2017.

Hyppolite spoke with Newsday about her practice's evolution. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How did COVID-19 impact the practice?

About 10 to 20% of my patients were telehealth, and the rest of them — the bulk — were face-to-face. In the beginning of March, 100% of the practice had to go online.

What did you have to do to offer services virtually?

The biggest thing was to get the patients to comply and agree to join me online because in the beginning, no one really thought it was going to last that long. So they’d say, … "We’ll just cancel until next month."

What kind of technology do you use?

I use a program called Doxy.me. The patients will get a link texted to their phone from my secretary. And when their appointment time rolls around, they just click on the link, and the video will pop up.

Did you have to talk people through using it?

Yes, especially the older population.

How has the transition been for clients?

Most people don't really miss going into the office. Yes, online [sessions] can't replicate the human exchange between me and the patient. But a lot of patients feel more relaxed and tend to open up a bit more when they're at home in their own environment.

Has that made you think differently about the long-term prospect of telehealth?

Most definitely. As of now, I have no plans of going back into the office. I'll try and reevaluate maybe next spring or next summer.

How has this impacted demand?

It definitely increased, and I hear that from all my colleagues in the surrounding area. People are desperate for mental health services.

How are you handling that?

So I've linked up with a couple of therapists and other providers in the area. And based on their niche … when somebody calls me, if I don't have an opening, I'll just refer them to whoever is open.

How does this impact the practice financially?

A lot of their insurance companies didn't cover telehealth. And even when they started covering it, the services, the regulations would change from month to month.

What do you do to cope?

I started a group for the providers. We basically Zoom every Saturday morning and just de-stress and talk about how our week was.

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