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In stressful times,  Southside Community Services expects high demand for services / April 02, 2020
Southside Community Services (SCS) is open for business and serving existing and new clients in need.

SCS director Beth Engelhorn says, “We are here for you. We are continuing to accept new clients via phone. Just call the centralized scheduling number at 1-833-272-2778.”

For now, Southside Community Services has not experienced an uptick in people accessing their services, but Engelhorn knows that can change. SCS offers behavioral health and intellectual/developmental care to people living in Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties.

“Layoffs and job losses and periods of isolation can cause symptoms related to mental health or substance abuse to increase,” she said.

She encourages anyone who is struggling to reach out to their behavioral health sponsor or community network via phone or video chat, or call the crisis hotline at 1-833-377-7272.

Engelhorn said she prefers video chats because they offer more person-to-person contact.

Even before the pandemic, the SCS served as a lifeline for people in need of substance abuse treatment and counseling, crisis intervention and treatment services, developmental day support programs, or infant development and parent assessment programs.

“We remain open, but with some adjustment to our services to ensure that our patients receive ongoing quality care,” said Engelhorn. For the time being, there are no in-person group meetings, but the SCS continues to provide suboxone for those who are medically detoxifying from opioid addiction. The SCS continues to see new substance abuse clients.

“We will continue to provide services and support to the community. Psychiatric appointments and appointments with therapists will be completed by phone and video conferencing. Case managers are still available and will also continue services through the use of phones and video conferencing equipment,” according to Engelhorn.

She praised the staff at SCS who “have stepped up” and embraced new ways to stay in touch with clients using technology. At the same time, she worries about those staffers who must continue in-person contact: “We’re low on personal protective equipment.”

SCS is keeping open its residential facilities in the area. “We’ve taken every precaution to protect our clients living in one of those sites. The only way someone living there could get the virus is if a staffer brings it in,” Engelhorn said.

For that reason, anyone working at or with someone living at a residential facility who has travelled since the outbreak of the virus, must self-isolate for 14 days before returning to work. Additionally, staffers who work at or with residents at these facilities are prohibited from traveling to areas where there is a known outbreak.

“We’re doing all we can to be good community partners,” said Engelhorn, adding the SCS has received “tremendous support” from both VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill and Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital in South Boston in helping people cope with crisis.

Area mental health and medical professionals are in a good place to deal with the needs of local residents, said Englehorn, because “we’ve had the advantage of seeing what others have done” to address all aspects of the pandemic.

“Most of us already had continuous operation and emergency operation plans in place. Moving forward, we will revisit those plans, see what we did well and what can be done better,” Engelhorn explained.

One area where she would like to see improvement is rural broadband. The lack of reliable broadband service in rural areas of Mecklenburg, Brunswick and Halifax limits the ability of SCS employers to hold online videochat meetings or work from home.

With the level of broadband access that is available today, “if we were ordered into a full shelter in place, our services would stop,” she said. That’s unacceptable to Engelhorn and the “wonderful and courageous staffers” that she says work at Southside Community Services.

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