State DCF extends virtual services as pandemic rages
BY LANCE REYNOLDS REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
January 8, 2022
Vannessa Dorantes, the state commissioner of children and families, credits early detection of breast cancer for saving her life. Dorantes shared her personal story Wednesday during a news conference on the importance of early detection screenings and breast health education as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Paul Hughes/Republican-American
WATERBURY — The state Department of Children and Families is letting providers offer virtual services to protect the safety of families and employees against the continued high COVID-19 infection rates through at least the end of this week.
It’s a shift back to how DCF operated during the early stages of the pandemic, with providers determining whether virtual services are the best way to support families without needing additional approval from the department.
While widespread vaccinations and a deeper understanding of the virus are helping support DCF to meet family needs, challenges remain, Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes told the Sunday Republican.
DCF is continuing to complete its mission critical work essential to its operation, including safety assessments to determine when face-to-face services are needed, Dorantes said. Congregate care and mobile crisis programs are expected to continue full in-person services and accept new referrals, she wrote last week in a letter to the department’s contracted providers.
“Over the last 22 months, we have had to pivot, be flexible and adjust to meet not only the needs of our workforce, but of course, the kids and families that we serve every day,” Dorantes said. “This has been a tremendously taxing time for our kids and families, but at the same time, we have that parallel with our workforce.”
From May 2021 through the end of last year, DCF served families fully in-person, Deputy Commissioner Michael Williams said. As daily virus positivity rates started rapidly increasing last month due to the highly transmissible omicron variant, he said it became a challenge to safely meet family needs.
“Continuing the in-person (services) was really creating a health risk for our social workers, for those families, for those children who had been removed from their families and put into foster care,” he said. “Foster parents may say they’re not comfortable with (providers) coming in when things are going as high as they’re going.”
Wellmore Behavioral Health, which serves 43 municipalities in western Connecticut and has offices in Waterbury, Torrington and Danbury, is pushing forward with in-person services in the safest manner possible, said Rosa Baldino, project coordinator for mobile crisis intervention services.
Wellmore is providing its 30 clinicians, part of its mobile crisis division, with personal protective equipment, including KN95 masks and face shields to meet families where they live, Baldino said. Getting a child in crisis to speak virtually proved a challenge for clinicians at the beginning of the pandemic, she said.
“It is very rare that we will do telehealth,” she said. “With the guidance from DCF, obviously that’s always on the back of their mind because if a family (has a positive case), there are certain screening questions that we have that we can’t risk that exposure to staff, but that’s very low right now.”
More than 90% of calls are responded to in-person, said Kristin Pracitto, Wellmore’s vice president of children’s services. Her company receives about 60 calls per week covering the entire 43-municipality region.
Wellmore’s mobile crisis workers are being dispatched from home, Pracitto said.
“In many situations, dispatching from someone’s home puts them closer to a family’s home than if they were in the office,” she said.