Dallas and the rest of North Texas were mercifully not as badly hit by the coronavirus as the rest of the country. However, that does not mean that the area’s healthcare systems did not experience any challenges. Our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers reports a continuing disruption in services for SUD, even after over a year into the pandemic.
Thankfully, things have already started to improve. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Here are just some of the ways the coronavirus has complicated the delivery of critical drug treatments:
1.) COVID-19 flare-ups at different facilities
Hospitals, residential rehab centers, and transitional homes in Dallas all experienced severe flare-ups in COVID cases due to the close proximity of the residents in these facilities. While not quite as bad as what happened in many North Texas nursing homes, the rise in COVID cases had and continues to force readjustments in the ways these facilities deliver their services.
2.) A reduction in available beds
Hospitals are a vital component of SUD treatment, as these facilities provide emergency services such as medical detox and are also home to residential and outpatient programs themselves. Unfortunately, COVID has and continues to account for a disproportionate amount of bed capacity in hospitals.
This has forced hospitals to prioritize severe SUD cases. Since the pandemic, patients with mild or moderate SUDs and other mental health disorders have had difficulties finding accommodations at North Texas rehab programs. Fortunately, the issue is now easing up somewhat, as COVID cases dropped and different treatment facilities adjusted to the pandemic.
3.) Reduced capacity at facilities due to social distancing
Even at facilities where beds were available, rehab centers throughout Texas experienced a reduction in service levels in large part due to a need to implement social distancing.
This was more an issue in outpatient treatment centers where measures had to be taken to prevent people from gathering and spreading the virus. Unfortunately, these needed measures have also slowed down the delivery of vital services, effectively reducing the number of people who could be treated each day.
4.) A sharp increase in SUD cases
The start of the pandemic severely disrupted the delivery of critical rehab and treatment services, particularly of medication-assisted therapy meant to ease drug withdrawal symptoms. As a result, relapses increased tremendously early on.
Even though things have pretty much settled into a steady rhythm since the early days of the pandemic, the ongoing lack of “normalcy” and the sheer length of time of the crisis has resulted in a severe hit to the mental health of people throughout the country. With more people feeling anxious or depressed and unable to seek help for it, self-medication rates and, subsequently, SUD rates increased. As things normalized, methadone clinics in Dallas — already at reduced capacity because of the crisis — began to be swamped.
The effect of the pandemic on the collective mental health of Americans has been severe enough that policymakers even had to question whether or not the lockdowns and social distancing necessary to combat COVID was worth the tradeoff. It may be several years before we can truly begin to see the real costs of these preventative measures.
5.) A reduction in staffing
The pandemic worsened an extant shortage of mental health professionals in Texas. Psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed therapists, registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals critical for drug and alcohol treatments have become even more in short supply.
These critical workers not only saw their numbers shrink because of their increased risk of catching COVID, but they found themselves stretched thin attending to mental health issues and other direct consequences of the pandemic. SUD patients are effectively competing for mental health care with everyone else who felt trauma from the pandemic.
Even in specialized facilities, the need to follow COVID safety guidelines also has also reduced the number of SUD patients who could be effectively treated at any given time, further exacerbating the situation. These issues coupled with the increase in SUD cases brought by the mental health fallout from COVID mean that it may be years before service levels return to pre-pandemic levels.
Overall, despite the setbacks, rehabs in Dallas have adjusted remarkably well to the pandemic, even though a reduction in capacity remains.
Fortunately, the envisioned COVID nightmare scenarios projected by doomsayers have not come to pass, though that may be little comfort to those who were directly affected by the pandemic. But as vaccinations throughout America increase, we may very well see herd immunity reached, and with it, an end to the COVID crisis as we know it.
However, the long-term effects of the pandemic on our mental health are still largely unknown. The collective traumatic experiences due to job losses, prolonged anxiety, separation from loved ones, the lack of socialization, and seeing friends and family suffer or die from COVID are also cery likely to predict future increases in substance misuse and SUD. Only time will tell if we can rebuild our rehabilitative care systems in time for this inevitable future need.