Stretched Thin

Anna Foglia of Sun Street Centers says one challenge is fear of staff potentially bringing Covid-19 home: “We want to be there for our clients, but also for our families.”

There is a hidden number of hospital beds in Monterey County outside of the facilities people usually think of. These are the beds that hold hundreds of people suffering from mental health challenges or substance abuse. And those who care for the people in those beds say they’re faced with a Herculean task in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’re running a mini-hospital,” says Barbara Mitchell, executive director of Interim, Inc., which operates residential, day treatment, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, wellness and homeless programs in Monterey County. The nonprofit manages around 300 beds in total.

Interim and similar programs considered “essential services” are now faced with the impact of a shelter-in-place order that has led to less staff, volunteers and funding at precisely the same time when the need in the community is skyrocketing. Interim has had to temporarily close or rework programs that normally include face-to-face meetings with people working through recovery, struggling with mental health issues, or both. But they can’t close needed beds that are keeping vulnerable people off the street, Mitchell says.

“It’s really hard to be providing an essential service.”

Sun Street Centers operates three residential treatment programs, outpatient counseling and prevention services. Since the shelter-in-place order took effect and impacted various supply chains and expenses, the nonprofit laid off 10 percent of its staff and reduced hours, says Anna Foglia, Sun Street’s chief executive officer.

“It’s really hard to be providing an essential service right now,” she says. In addition, programs that help those in recovery are “not always seen the same way as a hospital, doctor or police,” and find themselves last in line for personal protective gear and other items needed to care for people during a pandemic.

Having enough staff is one of the biggest issues facing Interim, which has to meet minimum-staffing requirements by the state, Mitchell says. With employees facing childcare issues and caring for families while the demand for services going up, it’s been a struggle. They have not laid off any staff like Sun Street Centers did.

As of March 30, Interim had seven clients who’d had direct exposure to others with Covid-19, not at any of Interim’s sites. The Monterey County Health Department has ordered those clients to be quarantined with Interim, which has created new issues, like keeping clients entertained. Mitchell is on the hunt for tablets and individual DVD players. She’s also on the hunt for phones so that those clients without phones can check in with counselors electronically instead of coming in for appointments.

With the county depending on services like Interim and Sun Street Centers to keep vulnerable residents cared for through the pandemic, on March 31, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to allow the county Behavioral Health Bureau to modify or execute contracts retroactively to March 1, to ensure that payments from the county to organizations providing services continue to flow for the duration of the shelter-in-place order, which does not have an end date.

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