The Future of Treatment After COVID-19
What will substance abuse treatment look like after the pandemic is over?
As professionals in substance abuse treatment, we are looking ahead to the post-pandemic future of our facilities and operations. What follows are some thoughts on that future.
There is a New Normal
In envisioning the post-COVID-19 environment, the first dynamic to keep in mind is that the pandemic-induced concerns and practices in current use will continue to exist well into the future, if not permanently. While some regions are allowing businesses to re-open, they are doing so using a phased approach with regulations in place that will likely affect enterprises for months to come. Treatment centers, meeting halls, and sober living facilities may be re-opening, but they will do so in an atmosphere of continually evolving operational practices and policies that will affect their clients, meeting-goers, and staff.
For those with substance abuse disorder, treatment often begins with detoxification and then inpatient services. The facilities that provide these services will most certainly be required to follow specific guidelines to ensure the safety of clients and employees. The most substantial changes expected for the future are the reduction of facility capacities and greater reliance on services that are remote in nature (i.e. telehealth).
As communities progress through the phases of relaxation of COVID-related restrictions, the practice of social distancing will continue to be nearly universally followed. This means significant reductions in the capacities of restaurants, shopping malls, and other facilities that include offices, lodging, and public service centers. Treatment facilities are apt to implement or continue capacity reductions of 50% or more to comply with social distancing guidelines, resulting in reduced revenues and the need to reduce budgets and staff levels, potentially impacting the levels or types of services that they are able to provide.
Telehealth “connects patients to vital health care services through videoconferencing, remote monitoring, electronic consultation, and wireless communication. By increasing access to physicians and specialists, telehealth helps ensure patients receive the right care, at the right place, at the right time.” With limited staff and reduced capacity for patients, you may find medical staff prescribing telecommunication for basic appointments, checkups, and certain mental health appointments such as counseling or therapy.
Sober Living/Transitional Residential Facilities
For sober living or residential facilities, many of the changes described are likely to apply. Residential capacity may be reduced due to physical distancing measures or to reductions in staffing caused by budget cuts. Additionally, the physical programming at sober living residences including group therapy, 12-step meetings, and counseling may also be adapted to comply with social distancing practices.
See our other blog What to look for when entering treatment during COVID-19 to see some of what we have implemented here at Heartland House.
The Future of 12-Step Recovery
In society, including the realm of 12-step recovery, the prospect of practices returning “back to normal” is a remote one. Treatment facilities, recovery support groups, and other post-treatment activities including 12-step meetings will follow physical distancing protocols, cleansing guidelines, and other practices that represent the long-term change in how they operate.
As most recovery models are built after a social model, you may be wondering what recovery will be like for those in recovery who won’t be able to meet in person for an extended period beyond these last two months. Think digital.
Many different recovery groups and programs have been meeting digitally for years for certain activities, and with the onset of the pandemic, many more joined them. You can read more about how to find online 12-step meetings on our blog:
It is likely that at least some meetings will continue to meet virtually for the foreseeable future. A number of meetings are beginning to operate in hybrid mode, offering an in-person facility but integrating digital options. You may find, for example, some meetings with 10 people in person, as well as a computer present with others joining virtually for a while.
Virtual meetings are not the only way to stay socially connected during this time. Many groups are also holding online workshops, social events, and conferences, and retreats! People are meeting online with their sponsors to check in and work the 12 steps, and some people who are new to recovery have digitally found and connected with sponsors to help them through their early recovery.
Getting the Word of Recovery Out to Those in Need
To ensure that people newer to recovery are able to find and connect with a recovery community during a time when in-person opportunities are few, organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous are airing public service announcements (PSAs) and other attraction pieces via their own websites or YouTube.
Heartland House is happy to help however we can during this time. Our website contains a variety of resources aimed at helping you find recovery meetings in your area, digital meetings, and information on substance use disorder.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if there is any way we can help.