By Alfred Acenas
EBC Hawaii Bureau
HONOLULU (Eagle News) – Leaders from the Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project joined Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Wednesday, May 27, to announce a new program to provide support for the psychological well-being and mental health needs of individuals seeking help during the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Conceptualized by Dr. Lawrie Ignacio and Dr. Graham Taylor and coordinated by the Hawaii Psychological Association, the program offers free mental health services provided by a Pro Bono Service Provider to uninsured residents on Oahu and throughout the state.
The Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project is a multi-disciplinary initiative that unites several mental health care communities with the common goal of ensuring that more Hawaii residents have access to quality mental health care.
“This in an incredibly stressful time for all of us, but the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought out some of the best in our island community,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “It’s very touching to see local residents stepping forward to take care of one another, and we can all be proud to stand with the Hawaii Psychological Association whose members are giving their time and talent freely to our underserved neighbors.”
According to the City and County of Honolulu, economic stress, social distancing, and the constant stream of news related to COVID-19 have resulted in anxiety and stress for many throughout the nation. In response, many insurers and providers have opened up new opportunities for telehealth not previously available and some insurers are making mental health more accessible.
Many residents may find that their insurance now covers the mental health services they need, and the providers in this program can help navigate that process to save the pro bono slots for residents who have no access to insurance at all during a time of record unemployment.
“While our state faces unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project realizes that the mental health and well-being of Hawaii’s residents is of upmost importance,” said Dr. Ray Folen, Executive Director of the Hawaii Psychological Association. “Everyone has something to give in this moment, and the Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project is proud to provide mental health resources to residents who may not otherwise be able to afford it.”
To ensure proper physical distancing during the “Ho’oulu i (Restore) Honolulu” order, all therapy and counseling services under the program will be provided exclusively via online telehealth platforms.
People can access the service on a first-come, first-serve basis by logging on to https://www.hawaiipsychology.org/ and clicking on the “Please click HERE for more information” link under the heading: Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project. The link will direct the individual seeking services to a description page outlining the terms of the Project, where he or she can then click on another link to submit a request for services. Once a request is submitted, the individual seeking services will be contacted by a Project coordinator who will assist in linking the individual to an available provider.
“The COVID-19 crisis puts pressure on people from all walks of life across Hawaii, but especially folks who may have lost their income and health insurance along with their job,” said Dr. Lawrie Ignacio of the Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project. “Dr. Taylor and I are coordinating this project to make sure that more of our residents have access to quality mental health care. We hope that this project will help to alleviate stress on those who need our help most.”
The Project coordinators are asking for patience up front from those seeking mental health services provided by the Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project, as mental health providers are in high demand and matching requests with available providers at any given time may require a waiting period.
The program does not offer a triage service, so interested residents may need to contact other community mental health services in order to secure timely services. Additionally, services being provided through the Hawaii Mental Health Pro Bono COVID-19 Project are not suitable for urgent and crisis situations as the Project will not be able to immediately connect individuals in severe distress with an available provider. Those experiencing severe distress, or an emergency, are asked to call emergency and crisis personnel who can provide an immediate response.
“Our personal resilience is all about staying connected, and our island resilience in the face of COVID-19 is directly related to how well we stay connected as a community,” said Josh Stanbro, Executive Director of the City and County of Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency. “One of the first actions we took as a City was to stand up a call center where residents who need information can speak to a real person instead of a recording or automated system. We may not always have the answers, but every conversation lets people know we’re all in this together. And now we have a resource to share with Oahu residents who need professional mental health.”
(Eagle News Service)