Providers Bring COVID-19 Vaccine to Behavioral Health Community

When it comes to protecting friends and family, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused serious concern, especially among those diagnosed with mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

Family Service League and Genoa Healthcare have stepped in to aid their clients in getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recent studies have shown that people diagnosed with mental illnesses are at a much higher risk of severe illness from the virus and should be included as a priority to receive the vaccine.

“I would say that people who suffer from a mental illness do have a higher risk of severe illness from Covid due to poor general health and other factors such as their lack of access to health care and housing,” Chief Pharmacy Officer of Genoa Healthcare Natasha Hennessy said. “So I wouldn’t say it’s specific to types, but rather just mental illnesses in general.”

So far, Genoa has 13 pharmacies within behavioral health facilities in New York State, which has become essential to the partnership created with FSL. 

More than 1,000 of their behavioral health clients and staff in New York State have been vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“It’s so beneficial for us to be on-site because if a client is going to get one of the mental healthcare services from the clinic, we’re already on-site to provide the vaccination,” Hennessy said, “There’s a very strong partnership between us and the clinic to help with that hesitancy if there is any, but also to ensure that they have access as well.”

Founded in 1926 in Huntington, Family Service League was created as a non-profit human service organization that covers a broad spectrum of services for people of all ages. 

They specialize in a few different divisions such as mental health, substance abuse services, housing, and homelessness services. 

“I’d like to say that we’re a safety net for Long Islanders,” Karen Boorshtein, president and CEO of Family Service League, said. “Whatever stage you are in life, Family Service League is here to help.”

Family Service League was one of the first non-profit organizations in New York state to have Genoa on-site and embedded in their center.

According to Boorshtein, there have been many positive outcomes because of the partnership that brings greater compliance for medications, and vaccine availability for her staff and clients. 

“There are clients who may have difficulty because of a mental health issue or substance abuse but have a relationship with FSL and trust their therapist. They get to meet Mario, our pharmacist through Genoa, and talk with him, which helps them feel that connection and relationship,” Boorshtein said. 

Genoa’s pharmacist at the Bay Shore FSL center, Mario Macari, described an encounter he had with a  long-standing client who was adamant about not getting the vaccine due to concerns about coming down with COVID.

According to Family Service League, “Mario sat down with him and explained exactly how the vaccine worked, assured him that there was no virus material in the vaccine, and explained how it was possible that the vaccine was developed quickly but safely. After that conversation, he said he trusted Mario and agreed to be vaccinated by him.”

Three weeks later, the client thanked Mario for making the process a comfortable one and admitted he probably would have never gotten the vaccine if it wasn’t for Mario’s help.

Genoa and Family Service League plan to vaccinate as many clients as possible, as well as educate those with mental illnesses and substance use issues as to why the vaccine is so important. 

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