Health department offers services, treatments in new way amid pandemic

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FREDERICK COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — During the coronavirus pandemic, the Frederick County Health Department has risen to the challenge of adapting how treatments and services can still reach those who need it. 

“We don’t know what’s going to come in the months that are approaching and the bottom line is we have to be flexible, we have to be light and adaptable,” explained Jay Hessler, assistant director for the Behavioral Health Services Division. 

Since spring of 2019, the syringe services program travels by van at least twice a week to cities and towns throughout the county with a goal of harm reduction.

“We are primarily working with and serving people who use drugs. The premise is reduction of spread of disease and to save individuals lives,” said syringe services program coordinator, Jessica Ellis. 

During the pandemic, that mission has continued with changes. 

Tables and chairs are set up just outside the van and that’s where nurses and staff with lived experiences of behavioral health issues offer several resources from sterile syringes to clean drug-use equipment. 

Ellis says the distribution sterile equipment helps stop the spread of diseases, like hepatitis C, that can be transmitted through shared drug-use items. 

Fentanyl testing kits are also distributed.

“So [participants] know if fentanyl is present,” Ellis explains, “and if fentanyl is present, they they have the ability to practice some overdose prevention strategies: Having Narcan, not using alone, not combining substances.”

And a significant modification to this program is that narcan and other supplies are now being delivered right to participants.

“This has allowed us to really meet people where they are during the pandemic,” said Ellis. 
The behavioral health division has also launched virtual programming for services like overdose response training and support groups. 

The Kids Like Us summer camp has also moved online. The art therapy camp for children who have a family member struggling through substance abuse now meets virtually four days a week.

“Not having access to those supports and those treatment services leaves those vulnerable folks more vulnerable because they don’t have access to those supports that they normally have in an environment where there are more stressors than ever,” Hessler explained. 

For more information on the Frederick County Health Department’s services, visit https://health.frederickcountymd.gov/

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