How Telehealth Services Can Benefit RI Families Post-Pandemic

By Sara Porcaro | Sep 9, 2020
Telehealth, Opportunity, Advocacy, COVID-19, Disabilities, Rhode Island, Choices, IDD Funding

Our lives are made of choices; not a day goes by that we don't make at least a few dozen. It's part of what keeps us in control of our own lives, as we make the conscious decision about where our day is headed and what we're going to accomplish during the time we have--whether working on projects, seeing loved ones, or developing skills and gaining more knowledge around a topic of interest. However, there are times when more crucial choices need to be made, like what our or a loved one's supports will look like.
That's why, as telehealth opportunities continue through the COVID-19 pandemic, Perspectives is making the most of it--taking it from emergency supports during the shelter-in-place to an option available for families as they begin transitioning back to in-person services, or to a hybrid model.
"In a time where we can't see each other, [telehealth services] have been critical," says Senior Director Sean Cornell. "Even now, there are still families using it exclusively as they do what they can to protect their health at this time."
With Governor Gina Raimondo's executive order allowing I/DD provider agencies like Perspectives to bill for telehealth services, the possibilities that came about were ones previously undiscovered. For many individuals, the ability to communicate and connect socially with others from the comfort of home was a massive boon. It's allowed for all manners of exploration and discovery, as small groups of individuals could see online zoo and aquarium exhibits together, learn how to find reliable and accurate information online, learn about internet safety, and other lessons crucial to success in a digital world. However, naturally, no program is a one-size-fits-all plan, and for some individuals, the preference for solely in-person services remains.
In our experience, while it's been extremely beneficial for some, it hasn't had the same benefits for others," says Sean, "and so a combination would be tremendously ideal to best support everyone. Telehealth is an amazing compliment to in-person supports."


As telehealth services have continued, and especially as in-person services have been able to resume safely, those advantages have become clear in the way that Treatment Coordinators and Clinical Supervisors can jump into lessons from anywhere, at any time, to support the Behavior Specialists that work directly with families. Delivering services entirely online can be difficult to keep engaging, as, in the words of Clinical Supervisor Melissa French, professionals can no longer sit side-by-side with individuals, but rather have to make their lessons are extra engaging to keep one's focus. However, when Behavior Specialists need support or a Treatment Coordinator needs to evaluate the progress of an individual, it's much easier to be able to jump into the lesson--and much less invasive for the family.
"Not only do we save time on travel, but we're able to better respect the integrity of the home and the family's privacy," says Senior Director Brenda Verdi. "It can be difficult to have so many people come for evaluations, but telehealth allows us to provide in-person services in a comfortable way."
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing so many agencies to completely re-imagine their services during the shelter-in-place, it's created a way of delivering services previously unavailable to providers--one that brings a whole host of options to families across Rhode Island. As the pandemic continues on, and families become more comfortable with in-person services, however, the question of whether or not telehealth is here to stay is definitely one worth asking. But now that the shelter-in-place is behind us, what's left is an opportunity not only to continue this, but to improve and interweave it into a true, holistic hybrid model with traditional in-person offerings.
"The pandemic has put us to the test, and we made the online model work well; it created a truly family-centered practice," says Brenda. "My goal would definitely be to see this continue, and to improve online supports beyond the emergency uses it's had. When people can make the choice of what works best for them, be it in-person, telehealth, or both, it's hugely beneficial."
Once again, the world is shifting from the turn it took six months ago, and Perspectives is ready to move forward into the future--taking with us the lessons we learned along the way. We're grateful for the work our professionals have done to keep services running throughout it all, and for the resilience of families we support, and we're looking forward to the many opportunities that have made themselves known over the past six months. With what we've achieved amidst the sudden changes, we're looking forward to expanding on the opportunities we've discovered, and striving forward into the future.


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