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State: Addicts, mental health patients can seek help remotely

State officials said mental health and addiction patients

State officials said mental health and addiction patients have expressed anxiety about leaving their homes. Credit: Northwell

The state said it has streamlined the approval process for mental health and addiction treatment patients seeking care remotely.

The move will help deliver the services safely while helping stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, according to state officials.

“Individuals who are self-quarantined or concerned about the spread of COVID-19 may understandably choose not to keep appointments with their therapists and health care providers,” said Dr. Ann Sullivan, the commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health. “By easing telehealth regulations, we will allow people living with mental health or addiction issues to safely and conveniently receive the services they need and provide peace of mind to both patients and health care providers.”

State officials said mental health and addiction patients have expressed anxiety about leaving their homes.  

The OMH and the Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) waived rules that will streamline the written approval process, expand the list of providers who can deliver telehealth services and ease certain requirements, such as the need for an initial in-person assessment prior to the delivery of telehealth services.

The streamlined regulations will allow a practitioner to file a form that certifies they meet the state’s licensing standards, that confidentiality of patients will be maintained, and all sessions will be conducted on secure transmission lines.

The regulatory waiver will be in effect for a time-limited period during the coronavirus disaster emergency.  

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The National Council for Behavioral Health, a Washington-based advocacy group for mental health and addiction providers, long has advocated for relaxed telehealth rules to help with the shortage of providers.

In New York, the state Labor Department has projected that a 25% increase in mental health therapists would be needed to meet demand from 2012 to 2022.

But Long Islanders still have better access than residents of rural areas of New York and the nation, where finding providers is even more difficult, experts said. In metropolitan areas, there are 17.5 mental health providers per 100,000 people, according to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine analysis completed in 2016. The number of providers falls to 5.8 per 100,000 in non-metro counties.

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