Support in times of need: Farnham Family Services' Executive Director Eric Bresee

Mar 26, 2020

It’s becoming clear that some of our most vulnerable populations are some of the most affected during the coronavirus outbreak. In the case of Farnham Family Services, Oswego County’s largest provider of outpatient treatment for substance use disorder, even a day without services can have detrimental effects.

On a day-to-day basis, Farnham also facilitates regular outpatient services, community and school-based prevention programming and peer services -- where individuals with their own experience in recovery help others through the process. But many of these services have to be performed in-person, especially those that require a health professional, and that is made all the more difficult when a public health emergency requires social distancing.

Farnham’s commitment to community health falls in line with what many organizations are focused on during this unprecedented time and they’re still able to provide the majority of their services, according to Executive Director Eric Bresee. The way they provide these services, though, has shifted significantly.

“Our model is typically one that is very in-person and with COVID-19 and the situation in our community we’ve transitioned our model to be mostly telephonic,” Bresee said.

Approvals were needed from the New York State Office of Addiction and Substance Abuse Services to provide services via telephone. That allowed some outpatient services, prevention programming and peer services to occur on phone or video conferencing platforms.

"With COVID-19 and the situation in our community we've transitioned our model to be mostly telephonic."

The next roadblock was technology. Simultaneously, Farnham worked to transition to a telephonic service delivery model and support a remote workforce.

“Part of that is just in alignment with the same sort of approach everybody’s trying to take in doing their part to limit the spread of the coronavirus and really give staff the opportunity to stay at home but still be able to be productive,” Bresee said.

Initially, there weren’t enough laptops or hotspots to keep staff connected, so efforts were made to ramp up those services.

Adjustments: Opiate treatment program

The opiate treatment program at Farnham typically provides daily dosing of medications.

“It’s critical that that part of our operation remains available to folks that are early in recovery,” Bresee said.

One of the steps taken so far is to increase the amount of take-home doses. According to Bresee, “that’s done on a case-by-case basis and with a full medical, therapeutic assessment of an individual’s stability.”

That measure has helped to reduce overall traffic to their facility. Additionally, access to buprenorphine has been switched to a telemedicine visit – with video and audio – that’s for initial access and to maintain a prescription for the drug. In this way, Farnham was able to cut down on some of the in-person visits to their facility.

Prevention counseling

School-based counselors working on prevention counseling, who are now unable to visit school across Oswego County, have a new focus:

“They’re actually working on a social media campaign that’s going to be distributing resources out into the community and providing people with the opportunity to call if they need support,” Bresee said.

"Just having the ability to call and receive our service, and to get peer support or to get individual therapy over the phone is something that prior to this wouldn't have been as available."

This time will be challenging for a lot of families and Bresee acknowledges that. But he also sees potential for an enhancement of services in this sphere as they offer immediate assistance to those in need.

“I think ramping up that service and providing it more broadly than we do typically is one of the enhanced services,” Bresee said. “Just having the ability to call and receive our service, and to get peer support or to get individual therapy over the phone is something that prior to this wouldn’t have been as available.”

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to affect our community, we're checking in with members of organizations and businesses in the area who have made drastic changes to continue to provide essential services. Hear these conversations during "Morning Edition," with extended versions available online. Catch up on the latest coronavirus news from NPR and WRVO anytime.