Behavioral Health gives update on use of COVID funds

Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center (PNC file photo)

In mid-March last year, the federal government provided funding to help the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center (GBHWC) operate during the pandemic. Its executive director gave an update on how the funds were used.

Behavioral Health was one of the GovGuam agencies that did not close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero declared a public health emergency in March 2020, Behavioral Health applied for a COVID emergency grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.

Behavioral Health was approved for the grant in the first week of April and got $500,000 — the maximum amount allocated to US territories.

The grant is for 16 months and was slated to end in August of this year. However, the grant got a 1-year extension which pushed that back to August of 2022.

Theresa Arriola, GBHWC executive director, says the grant was used to purchase telehealth instruments such as carts, laptops, mobile internet devices, computers, psychological testing equipment, more full-time counselors, and MiFis.

Arriola says the purchases immediately assisted counselors with tele-counseling the department’s clients.

In an interview with PNC, Arriola says although the island went into lockdown, the community’s need did not stop.

“To stand up a very comprehensive telemedicine infrastructure was very required. We are very blessed to have that money and we are very pleased that we were able to continue talking to our clients at least through face time and we were able to purchase professional Zooms for all our counselors and all divisions. That all cost money,” Arriola said.

She added that one of the challenges the department faced was the training for tele-counseling.

The department worked to provide additional training because it’s a different method for counselors to provide services to clients.

GBHWC also used funds to improve its 24-hour crisis hotline.

Arriola says they brought in trained volunteers to assist with manning the crisis line 24/7.

She says that she paid them with a stipend.

In addition, the department also used some of the $500,000 funding to renovate an existing unit in order to isolate any clients who may have tested positive for COVID-19.