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'It's a bit early to tell what the increase might be, but we know there is an increase, and we're prepared for it.'

PMG FILE PHOTO - Medicare health providers expect to see an increase in mental health concerns because of the COVID-19 virus.The rising number of coronavirus cases reported across Oregon each day is saddling hospitals with unparalleled levels of demand for patient care, bed space and medical supplies.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also has set off a scramble among providers of mental health services. Demand for counseling and similar services is on the rise, say front-line workers at behavioral health clinics and nonprofits that connect vulnerable Oregonians with health care resources.

"People may need support above and beyond what they get from their usual providers."

"We are seeing increased needs for support around anxiety, depression and isolation associated with the uncertainty of the illness," said Dr. Jeffrey Eisen, chief medical officer at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, a provider that serves many Medicaid members in Portland. "People may need support above and beyond what they get from their usual providers."

pmgExperts say the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated patient needs and increased the difficulty for providers trying to reach the state's Medicaid population, which includes roughly 1 million lower-income Oregonians receiving health care benefits through the Oregon Health Plan. Hard figures showing an increase in demand for mental health care among Medicaid recipients, in particular, are scant. The pandemic is still too new. But Eisen and other health officials say they're facing challenges meeting the rising need while trying to drastically alter the way they provide care. Most counselors and psychiatrists no longer meet face-to-face with patients, deferring to social distancing guidelines. Organizations from preventative health nonprofits to peer recovery groups and community centers have been forced to close their doors temporarily.

"It has been variable. We've had some days where there's been an immense amount of support needed, and others a little less so," Eisen said. "It's a bit early to tell what the increase might be, but we know there is an increase, and we're prepared for it."

This Lund Report story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.

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