No one could have predicted the events that took place in 2020. As if the opioid epidemic wasn’t a big enough challenge for our country, together we battled a global pandemic that caught everyone off guard. COVID-19 has led to dramatic loss worldwide and the economic and social disruption it caused has been devastating. The United States recorded the highest number of drug overdoses ever in a single year. Millions of people were forced into isolation, schools and daycares closed and many lost their jobs. Access to everyday staples like toilet paper and, for many, nutritious foods was limited. The list is overwhelming.
In March 2020, as the world began to change drastically, we at CleanSlate knew we had to stay open for our patients. They count on our support to survive. The entire organization came together and acted immediately to reinvent the way our care and services were delivered. A few CleanSlate sites were temporarily closed to shift resources and ensure our providers and staff were able to help patients safely and effectively. Patients in cities with hibernating centers were redirected to nearby locations and seen via telehealth appointments. It was not an easy transition but given how quickly organizations were forced to develop strategies limiting in-person contact, it was a remarkably seamless process as our centers adopted new technologies in less than 72 hours.
While we have a long road ahead, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. We must not lose hope that life will gradually get back to normal. Nonetheless, we know going back to our routines doesn’t mean we can leave everything we experienced over the last year behind us. We await anxiously to see if the pandemic is really behind us and prepare for the effects the pandemic and public health policy have had on our mental health and substance use disorders. Access to care for many people seeking help will continue to be problematic.
CleanSlate is ready to help people who need support maintaining or starting their recovery as we resume in-person visits at many of our centers and complement face-to-face care with telemedicine and Tele counseling. We’re adding more clinicians, support staff, and counselors to our team, expecting all temporarily closed centers to reopen in 2021. We’re excited to welcome our patients back in person and also retain the option of telehealth appointments for those affected by illness or other circumstances.
So much of the support our patients desire along their recovery journey takes place face-to-face. We learned very quickly that technology, social media, and video conferences do not replace human interactions. Humans are social beings by nature and it is the face-to-face interactions with patients, providers, and the mental health ecosystem that creates trust. While we’ve done a good job moving our care services online, the broader recovery support network has been extremely affected by the pandemic. We look forward to reestablishing these networks in the communities we serve and working with our partners to ensure people with substance, polysubstance, and alcohol use disorders, and those struggling with mental illness get the help they need.
As we look to the future we can’t lose sight of the critical importance of addressing an epidemic that has plagued our country for generations: addiction. I’m optimistic about our ability to continue expanding our services and meeting patients where they are. However, we alone cannot end the opioid crisis or combat the rising alcoholism numbers. We must see increased support for funding and education of behavioral health and substance use issues across the country. This must be done in collaboration between for-profit and not-for-profit groups. We must fight to end the stigma associated with mental health and addiction. And above all, we must always have compassion for other human beings. CleanSlate will be here, as always, doing all we can to take care of people.