As noted in our last blog, many New Jersey mental health professionals have turned primarily, if not exclusively, to providing their needed services via telehealth during the Covid-19 crisis.
As the crisis begins to show signs of lessening, many mental health professionals are considering when and how they might return to providing, at least to some degree, in-person mental health services.
Recently the National Association of Social Workers has offered guidance to its members, particularly solo and group practices, in this regard. That guidance can be found at https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=akHuTIoFNPM=&portalid=0. The following is a summary of that guidance:
Develop an informed consent form. It should address the dangers related to the transmission of communicable diseases, such as Covid-19 and any special procedures/protocols you have put in place to minimize the danger of its spread in your office.
Update your written office policies and procedures. These changes should reflect the “new reality” under which your practice is operating. It should inform client of new office hours; your policy regarding cancellations – including those due to Covid-19 related illness; expectations regarding use of masks and PPE in your office; whether clients may enter your office prior to the start time of their session or need to wait in their car, etc. These changes should be sent to clients and posted on your web site and should be discussed with clients at the outset of their next session. Clients should sign and acknowledge that they have reviewed and consent to the new policies and procedures.
Update your office setting. Signs in the office should promote client use of hand washing and sanitizing. Hand sanitizers and tissues should be available for client use. Seating arrangements should be at least six feet apart. Doorknobs, desks, chairs and telephones should be disinfected after each session.
Contact third-party payers. Advise them when you are resuming in-person office activities, especially if telehealth services were not provided during the public health emergency. If the practice was officially closed, re-enrollment procedures may be required by third-party payers.
Check the adequacy of your insurance: While Congress has shielded clinicians from liability in certain Covid-19-related instances, there may be heightened risks caused by the pandemic which do not fall under these protections. Contact your medical malpractice and general liability insurance carriers to discuss the adequacy of your current insurance coverage as it relates to practicing in the Covid-19 era.
Respect Confidentiality and Privacy Concerns: Institute or update confidentiality, privacy and data security protocols. Inform co-workers and clients if they came into contact with an employee or client who tested positive for Covid-19, but do not share that individual’s identity or details of their symptoms without that person’s written consent. Keep the results of employee Covid-19 screenings in employment records only and separate from their personnel file details; their symptoms generally cannot be shared with clients oremployees without consent.
Each mental health practice, like each mental health professional, is different. The foregoing is intended not as specific advice for your individual practice but rather as a professional’s practice useful checklist for beginning to think through the steps appropriate for a safer and more orderly reopening.