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Telehealth During COVID-19: Advantages, Challenges, and Barriers Across Zero to Three Programs

Joy D. Osofsky, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center; Angela W. Keyes and Allison Boothe Trigg, Tulane University School of Medicine; and Amy B. Dickson and LaKisha Y. Mamon, Louisiana State University Health Science Center

Published on December 17, 2020

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a spotlight on telehealth as a mechanism for programs and professionals who provide direct services to young children and families to be able to continue essential supports and services. Providers, agencies, and insurance companies had to rapidly evolve in order to reach families and other caregivers in new ways. This article describes how four different programs in Louisiana took action to ensure, as best as possible, the continuation of mental health services to children and families during an unprecedented global pandemic.

In the spring of 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation, Louisiana required its citizens, with the exception of essential personnel, to quarantine in their homes. This unprecedented move was designed with the goal of “flattening the curve” (the attempt to slow the rising number of new virus infections) as Louisiana experienced staggering rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations, and deaths. While the choice was difficult, it was necessary to save lives; however, the resulting effects on the provision of health and mental health services were dramatic and required immediate action to ensure access to and continuity of care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all areas of health care requiring adjustments to how care is provided while simultaneously protecting patients, providers, and staff from the spread of the novel coronavirus. Prior to COVID-19, telehealth services were growing nationwide due to a well-documented shortage of mental health providers especially for children in the birth to 5 years age range and their caregivers. The COVID-19 pandemic thrust telehealth into the forefront, challenging providers, agencies, and insurance providers to rapidly change and implement plans to reach families and other caregivers in new ways. The four programs described in this article experienced the issues, challenges, and success (to the extent possible under extraordinary circumstances) of working to ensure the continuation of mental health services to children and families.

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