COVID-19 has brought Michael Seiferling and Robert Stephenson closer together. Seiferling, Director of Mental Health and Addictions for the South West, and Stephenson, Director of Mental Health and Addictions for the South East, work as a close-knit team to deliver mental health and addictions care to people in the province’s rural areas while supporting the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s broader pandemic efforts.
Amber Schwengler, a child and youth counsellor based in Kindersley, has conducted several of virtual appointments with families.
“Rob and I were able to divide the labour,” said Seiferling. “This wouldn’t be going as well as it has if we weren’t a single health organization. The streamlining of information allowed us to implement a lot of things quickly and in similar ways and leverage care opportunities. This wouldn’t have happened as easily four or five years ago.”
Their responses to the pandemic have generally mirrored or complemented each other.
As COVID-19 began to move into Saskatchewan, the southern portion of the province suspended inpatient and outpatient group services, provided more one-to-one care on hospital units, postponed non-urgent appointments and began using the secure video conferencing tool Pexip for many urgent and emergent appointments.
“We continued to meet the needs of the clients, especially urgent and emergent or at-risk individuals, just in a different way in some cases,” said Stephenson. “We always were clear that in-person care was an option for urgent cases. People tended to prefer phone or virtual care interventions because of COVID concerns.”
Seiferling said in the case of the Moose Jaw Drug Treatment Court, services slowed for all but those clients needing urgent care.
Physicians made adaptations, too. Stephenson noted that physicians began using Pexip to communicate remotely with patients and staff on the unit to reduce the potential for virus transmission.
Stephenson and Seiferling said they are now in the process of resuming and planning to resume services.
One of the key discoveries of this experience so far has been to learn how beneficial virtual care can be.
“What we typically find is it’s hard to run groups in rural unless you’re in a larger centre,” said Stephenson. “I’m excited about having an option to have participants from anywhere in the province being able to access a type of service they might not otherwise have access to, or would only be able to access if they travelled some distance.”
Seiferling agreed, adding “virtual care is of things we hope to bring into routine practices and care strategies as services resume.”