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'Go Teams,' listening sessions all part of focus on self-care and digital social interaction during pandemic

PMG FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County Behavioral Health staff members hold signs expresses messages of hope for those struggling with mental health issues last May.

Although physical health has gotten much of the attention throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, Clackamas County is debuting mental health responses to the pandemic to remind local residents not to forget their emotional self-care.

Clackamas County officials announced Tuesday a new program that will send staff members out into the community to help individuals and families dealing with anxiety, stress, grief and other complex social and emotional situations surrounding the pandemic. The program — titled "Go Teams" — is available Monday through Friday and will be provided with safety in mind, meaning use of PPE like face shields, masks, gloves, hand sanitization and physical distancing. County employees have been formed into teams of six and will be headed out to local residential care facilities, individual households and other places in the community where folks might need support or social interaction during these trying times.

"Concern about becoming ill, loss of employment, the closure of businesses, and the restrictions on our ability to personally connect with one another have already created significant and difficult emotional challenges for members of our community," said Mary Rumbaugh, county behavioral health director. "To prevent long-term impacts, it is important that people have an outlet to talk about what's going on for them and receive some emotional support."

According to Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, a supervisor with the county Behavioral Health Division, the idea behind Go Teams is that they are mobile and can provide psychological first aid rather than therapy or case management.

"They are able to meet people where they are at," Anderson said. "The team helps by easing distress and ultimately seeking to prevent PTSD and suicide by assisting early on during this pandemic."

The county is also hosting a virtual mental health listening session tomorrow, Wednesday, April 29, at 3 p.m. via Zoom with Dr. Anderson, Commissioners Sonya Fisher and Martha Schrader, Suicide Prevention Coordinator Galli Murray and Elise Thompson of the county's Behavioral Health Division.

According to Murray, the main purpose of the listening session is to hear how local residents are coping with the emotional aspect of this pandemic and connecting them to local resources and ideas to remain connected socially while physically distancing.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County Suicide Prevention Coordinator Galli Murray.

"The level of stress that people are experiencing in our community is so high," Murray said. "Reminding people that along with physical health precautions, we really need to be taking care of each other and fostering connections. That's what is going to get us through this."

Murray said that she believes it's more important than ever for those struggling with mental health to reach out for help, whether that's simply connecting digitally with friends or seeking professional help for more serious situations. She also encourages people to regularly check on their friends and family who aren't as easily able to use technology to get their social fix.

"Asking for help is a sign of strength, but we know that in our society, both personally and professionally, many of us have not been raised that way," she said. "But we need to continue to foster a community and environment where it's OK to say, 'I'm not doing so hot today,' and for (friends and family) to lean into that conversation and say 'Thanks for saying that, I don't have the answer, but I'm here for you.'"

Also on Tuesday:

The Board of County Commissioners is set to discuss this afternoon a letter drafted by State Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, to Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon Insurance Commissioner Andrew Stolfi that outlines ways the state could help improve access to mental health care, particularly for Oregon's communities of color.

The three-point plan Bynum proposed includes allowing mental health interns on insurance panels so they can bill insurance and help Oregonians, reducing the direct hourly requirement for full licensure of mental health professionals to 1,200 hours and developing a COVID-19 mental health relief fund to help the public — especially uninsured and undocumented residents — access mental health treatment.

FILE PHOTO - Rep. Janelle Bynum

"A portion of this fund can have the specific focus of increasing the recruitment and retention of counselors of color, which is critical for communities of color in particular to access the culturally-competent resources they need to heal and thrive," Bynum states in the letter.

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