Frontier Behavioral Health closed all of its outpatient locations Thursday. Instead, clinicians will treat clients over the phone.
It's an unprecedented step for the nonprofit organization. Thomas says out of over 700 employees, around 500 will be working from home. While he acknowledges that face-to-face interaction "has benefits" over appointments done telephonically, he had to weigh that against the risk of potentially spreading COVID-19.
"It's not an easy decision and it's certainly not an easy thing to implement," he says. "For us, at the forefront of our thinking was the safety of our clients and the safety of our staff."
"Any time you're losing what might be a more appropriate setting of care, and then patients need to go to the ER because there's nowhere else to go, that does create a strain on the hospital system," he says.
At the same time, he says it is important right now to keep social distancing.
Thomas says it's hard to predict how that will play out but says they're going to be doing the best they can between outpatient telephonic care and crisis response to avoid straining hospitals.
Thomas says Frontier mental health professionals will not be going out with Spokane Police Department officers for the most part as part of SPD's behavioral health unit. Thomas says clinicians will be available to do those assessments over the phone.
Spokane Police Sgt. Jay Kernkamp, who works closely with SPD's behavioral health unit, says "nothing is going to change in terms of the services we are providing."
"We're still responding to calls for services, still providing services to those in crisis, still able to safely plan with them, still able to provide treatment for them," Kernkamp says.
Thomas says that transitioning to all telephonic has been a "heavy lift," but he adds that it's not totally new.
"It's quite typical that we have clients enrolled in outpatient and they call in crisis — not enough to activate crisis response teams, but not doing well between sessions — and we provide intervention and counseling over the phone," Thomas says. "Having it be the only mechanism is what's new."