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Wellmore sets up outdoor tents to allow for in-person therapy sessions


Wellmore Behavioral Health has set up outdoor tents to allow for therapy sessions at both its children and adult clinics in Waterbury. Jim Shannon Republican-American


WATERBURY — Telehealth has been successful for Wellmore since the rise of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, officials there said, but noted some patients prefer, or need, face-to-face counseling — even if those faces are covered with masks.

So, the agency put up a series of tents at both its Adult Services and Child and Adolescent Services locations, designed to provide safe, in-person counseling and other health care services, while maintaining both privacy and social distancing measures.

“I think the primary thing that we learned over the last three months is while video works for some people when you’re talking about kids, it’s all about the relationship, the ability to sit down and make eye contact and to be able to read each other’s body movements and motions and effects,” Kristin Pracitto, LCSW - Wellmore’s Vice President of Child Services, said.

“Really, with kids, what it comes down to is engaging in a way that feels real to them,” she said. “What we’ve found in the tents is that it helps us with that engagement and kids feel more connected again or reconnected with their therapist … and are more excited to go to treatment, and particularly in a way that feels more real and authentic for everybody, both the client and the staff.”

Wellmore Behavioral Health has set up outdoor tents to allow for therapy sessions at both its children and adult clinics in Waterbury. Jim Shannon Republican-American

Some adults, however, also do better through in-person counseling, said Christie Hunnicutt, LCSW - Wellmore’s Vice President of Adult Services.

Telehealth — health care services delivered over the phone or live video exchange — is not always a viable solution for some, she said.

“Some people don’t have the ability to log on to a computer or cell phone,” Hunnicutt said. “This offers them a space to walk up and get services as well. It offers options for people who may not be as fortunate in some ways as others.”

Wellmore Behavioral Health clinician David Ortiz, left, and administrator Jason Grubbs, right, demonstrates how outdoor tents will be used to allow for therapy sessions at both its children and adult clinics in Waterbury.

The tents set up at Child and Adolescent Services at 141 East Main St., and up the street at Adult Services at 402 East Main St., are designed for privacy and safety.

“We have clients drive in the parking lot. They have a check-in spot where they go through basic health screening questions,” Pracitto said. “They are directed to a tent away from the parking lot that allows them to pull up directly in front of the tent and stop the car there.”

Wellmore Behavioral Health staff, from left, Jason Grubbs; Shalima Abdalle, Wellmore CEO Gary Steck and Deborah Ciarlo, gather inside a tent that is used for group therapy sessions on Wednesday. Wellmore has set up outdoor tents to allow for therapy sessions at both its children and adult clinics in Waterbury. Jim Shannon Republican-American

From there, she said, the child or teen can choose to come out of the car and sit with a clinician at a table divided by a clear plastic screen, or engage with the clinician while the client is still in the car.

At both facilities, the tents have walls and are arranged in such a way that other clients and passers-by cannot see who is receiving services, officials there said.

“It affords a different type of privacy,” Pracitto said. “There’s enough ambient noise that you can really have private conversations in the tents without worrying about people outside of the tents hearing you.”

Many of the adult clients, Hunnicutt said, receive substance abuse treatment and care for addiction issues that concur with mental health issues.

“We’re trying to offer space where clients who have been socially isolated in the community, who may not have been able to connect with community resources, individual care, or family support feel connected to the community and providers here,” Hunnicutt said.

While many are involved in regularly scheduled support group meetings, she said, the tents also provide individual therapy and no-appointment, walk-in services.

Both officials said that since the beginning of the pandemic, counselors and case managers reached out to clients on a regular basis, providing not only telehealth but some in-home services as well — albeit from front porches, backyards and other distanced locations.

“We are trying to do our best right now to give families choice of how they want to be seen,” Pracitto said. “We’re finding more and more families more excited to be face-to-face. As we learn over time, we are fine-tuning our process.”

Hunnicutt said some of the changes in service delivery might be permanent, even when the pandemic slows.

“I think this time has been challenging in a lot of ways; it’s offered us great space to reflect how to better think about access to clients and how they access programs routinely,” she said. “I think it’s an evolution in the way we work.”

But for now, Pracitto said, the tents provide something important to clients, especially during these troubled times — options.

“We want people to be able to have a choice when so much of the choice in their life has been taken away over the past three months,” she said.

For more information about the healthcare tents, contact Wellmore’s Child and Adolescent Outpatient Service at 203-756-7287, or its Adult Outpatient and Community Support Services at 203-755-1143.

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