As Baltimore City hires a corps of more than 300 people to help track and limit the spread of COVID-19 locally, those workers will receive some extra support from a Catholic Charities program.
Through a contract with the city, the agency’s Villa Maria Community Resources Behavioral Health Clinic in Fallstaff will offer a range of services – from tips on stress management to weekly therapy sessions – to help individuals as they undertake this vital work.
Calling people who have tested positive for COVID-19, or those who may have come in close contact with an infected person, can be a stressful or demoralizing job.
“They get lots of hang-ups,” said Kevin Keegan, director of the agency’s Family Services division. “The idea was to be able to offer them information, education, and support – and direct therapy, as well, if that’s something they need.”
The Fallstaff clinic will begin supporting the new workers from day one, joining the new employees’ orientation to offer information on mental health, coping skills, stress management, and managing grief during a pandemic, said Clinic Director Melissa Jenkins.
But trainings will not be limited to topics that are specifically related to the coronavirus. Future sessions could include information about substance use disorders or supporting family members with mental health concerns. The clinic is also planning email blasts to remind workers of available services and offer practical tips on topics such as sleep.
“It’s a larger scope,” Jenkins said about the plan. “It runs the gamut from prevention services all the way through to weekly therapy or psychiatry – we can provide that, too.”
More than 1,350 contact tracers are currently working across the state, according to Maryland’s covidLINK website. Tracers provide information about how to quarantine and watch for symptoms, and where to turn if the patient needs more help. Similar processes have been used in other health emergencies locally and globally to reduce the spread of infectious disease.
Many of Baltimore’s “Health Corps” jobs are geared to people with relevant experience – such as customer service or health care – who are currently out of work. The clinic’s behavioral health services will add to a list of benefits that includes career advice, financial counseling, and legal services. While the contact tracing position is temporary, these holistic supports aim to help workers overcome any barriers to finding stable and permanent employment.
At the Fallstaff clinic, a senior clinician has been tapped to provide the bulk of therapeutic services, though several other therapists are prepared to offer support if needs increase. Given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, the clinic’s approach may evolve as needs become clear.
“This is not completely uncharted territory for us, but in terms of it being about contact tracers and specifically about COVID-19, that’s a new context,” Jenkins said. “We will be collaborating with them to hear about what some of the unique stressors are.”
In providing information about a broad continuum of services, Jenkins also hopes workers will tell friends and family about options for support at the Fallstaff clinic.
“Our goal is to increase access to mental health services, whether that is through us or through some other identified program,” she said.
More information about the Villa Maria Community Resources Behavioral Health Clinics in Baltimore City, or in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, or Harford Counties is available on the Catholic Charities website, and by calling 667-600-3000.