Since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral healthcare providers have had to provide the best care to their most vulnerable populations, while simultaneously adapting to the impacts the virus has had on facility design. To better understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 and begin developing solutions for our healthcare system clients, CMBA is taking a look at how healthcare providers are adapting to the current pandemic and what it could mean for the future of behavioral healthcare.
How has COVID-19 Impacted Mental Health Patients?
It's no secret that behavioral health clients have been seeing higher rates of patients with mental health concerns from stress. This is due, in large part, to the loss of jobs, anxiety about the pandemic, isolation, loss of loved ones, etc... For people with substance abuse issues, providers see increased rates of relapse due to lack of support and lack of daily structure. While patients are experiencing more mental health issues during this crisis, concerns about social distancing and fear of contracting COVID-19 have prevented some patients from accessing routine care.
How are Facilities Adapting?
Some inpatient units were already being designed with more flexibility in mind – including the ability to section off into smaller units. Now, many facilities are beginning to offer a mixture of double- and single-patient rooms in each unit or all single beds to easily quarantine specific patients if needed. There's a lot of practical value in being able to separate out a three or four-bed sub-unit flex area in each unit; it allows for the treatment of more acute patients.
Clients are also realizing the need for greater access to handwashing for patients and staff, especially in common areas like group rooms and at the entrance to the dining room. For some facilities, the only place for patients to wash hands is the bathroom in their rooms or in group spaces.
What is a Modern Behavioral Health Facility's Spatial Needs?
Many facilities are planning for more space between people everywhere, including administration areas, dining areas, and entry areas. Facilities may also need larger spaces to conduct socially distanced group classes.
Many patients experiencing behavioral health issues sometimes seek treatment at their local emergency department (ED), and the current pandemic could lead hospitals to create crisis and stabilization units to clear behavioral health patients from the ED, protect them from contamination, and provide more specialized care for behavioral health.
With the wide adoption of advanced telehealth services, it is very possible that the future of behavioral health facilities could include less space for private offices in outpatient facilities. Longer-term solutions might include a hybrid model of traditional care combined with new digital interventions for outpatient care. There are serious benefits to telehealth for behavioral healthcare; it helps avoid the stigma if patients can get help from the privacy of their homes, and more people may seek treatment. And, as care is ever more accessible, providers are noticing fewer “no-show” appointments.
Improved access to mental health facilities will still be a challenge for many, but increased connectivity to providers should create an avenue to improved wellness.