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Chuck Ingoglia

President and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Giving Thanks in a Year Full of Challenges

November 25, 2020 | From the CEO | Comments
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In 2020, everything changed.

Work? Online.

School? Same.

Exercise? My gym is closed.

Socializing? Outside only, preferably around the fire pit.

And now Thanksgiving will look a lot different, with many of us gathering with just our immediate family members.

Even though Thanksgiving will look different because of the battering ram of challenges 2020 has presented, I can look back with immense admiration and gratitude. My admiration extends to all 3,326 National Council member organizations who have gone above and beyond and continued to care for their clients with mental illness or a substance use disorder throughout the pandemic.

Despite the challenges, Community Behavioral Health Organizations around the country have never stopped innovating. They have demonstrated incredible resiliency, flexibility and compassion. These heroic organizations have never lost sight of their commitment to serve and support clients, even when they had inadequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), constantly shifting reimbursement and regulatory requirements. Even though they had no clear road map, they dove in headfirst to make a difference.

I’m thankful for their creativity in shifting service delivery almost totally to virtual care in less than one week! Can you imagine? This involved securing and deploying new equipment, re-training staff, developing new workflows and supporting clients with their own technology and connectivity. It seems overwhelming to me – and yet it happened quickly – and it kept people connected to care and support during a scary time for the whole country.

But as we know, that is only a fraction of the change that these Community Behavioral Health Organizations have had to make this year. Everything changed with respect to service delivery – drive-in assessments, re-imagining street outreach, delivering medications and food to clients’ homes, more frequent telephone contacts, online support groups – and so much more.

There is indeed much to be grateful for this year!

I’m also thankful to all the policymakers who revised telehealth policies so people can receive care safely during the pandemic.

On top of that list is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). In response to the pandemic, Congress and CMS expanded coverage of telehealth in Medicare. In addition, CMS Medicaid Telehealth Guidance to States offers broad flexibility to cover telehealth using various methods of communication including audio-only, telephonic, video technology commonly available on smart phones and other devices.

These important policy changes promoted the use of telehealth and acknowledged that patients are more important than protocols.

I’m thankful that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has worked with us to understand the financial challenges of our members and develop the Provider Relief Fund, creating a financial lifeline for organizations that have billed Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP. The CARES Act established a $50 billion relief fund, and in October the agency announced plans to make $20 billion in new funding available to health care organizations on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. That includes organizations that provide mental health and addiction recovery treatment and services, and the relief funding has helped many organizations remain open when their patients need them most.

But most of all, I’m thankful for our members. They’ve been through so much this year, and many have struggled to remain open. Not only are they navigating a brutal economic landscape, they’re also forced to do so at significant personal risk. Despite the increasing use of telehealth, many practitioners still see patients in person, risking exposure to the coronavirus. We’ve never been through a year like this. We’ve never faced obstacles like this. But the courage and resilience of National Council member organizations serves as an inspiration.

We all will be grateful when the pandemic ends. No matter when that happens, National Council members will continue their hard work – in the face of incredible odds – to provide life-saving treatment and services to the millions of people who rely on them for care.

And in 2020, that’s what makes me most thankful.

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