Behavioral Health Resources and Services during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

While healthcare professionals and public officials work relentlessly to protect our communities from the COVID-19 virus, we cannot ignore the impact the uncertainty the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and the statewide “stay-at-home” order can have our mental health.

Toward that end, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (“DHS”) is launching a statewide toll-free helpline for individuals struggling with anxiety during these uncertain times. The number to call the helpline is 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, please dial 724-631-5600.

Additionally, Governor Wolf’s “stay-at-home” order renders in-person behavioral health services such as group therapy and peer support groups impractical—if not, impossible and detrimental to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

As such, DHS’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) issued guidance to expand the provision of telehealth behavioral health to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while simultaneously providing medically necessary behavioral health services. This OMHSAS guidance will remain effective for ninety (90) days or as long as Governor Wolf’s emergency disaster declaration for COVID-19 virus remains in effect, whichever is earlier. Generally, Bulletin OMHSAS-20-02 sets forth the requirements and limitations for telehealth behavioral health services in the Commonwealth. Bulletin OMHSAS-20-02 is available for your review here .

The key points from OMHSAS guidance are as follows:

  • Telehealth services can be provided via commonly available telephonic video available on smart phones and other electronic devices. Where such video technology is unavailable, telephone-only services are permitted;

  • The requirement for the presence of staff trained to provide in-person clinical intervention during the provision of telehealth services is temporarily suspended;

  • The requirement for staff trained in the use of telehealth equipment and protocols is also temporarily suspended;

  • Telehealth services are available for all individuals providing necessary behavioral health services within their scope of practice; and

  • Limits on the amount of services that may be provided through telehealth are temporarily suspended.

As the nation continues to navigate these uncertain times, individuals should take advantage of this expansion of telehealth behavioral services or the toll-free helpline—even individuals who maybe did not necessarily utilize such services prior to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.

For additional information on how to manage the stress and anxiety posed by the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, please visit the Centers of Disease Control and Prevent available  here

This alert is intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own attorney concerning your situation and specific legal questions you have. We are fully operational during this pandemic and stand ready to assist as you navigate this ongoing and developing COVID-19 situation. Please do not hesitate to contact any member of our response team with your questions and concerns.