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As Mental Health Crisis Builds, City Heights Doctors Turn To Telehealth

An iPad sits a room at La Maestra Community Health Center in City Heights where people seeking addiction treatment can meet with their doctor virtually, Oct. 6, 2020.
Andi Dukleth
An iPad sits a room at La Maestra Community Health Center in City Heights where people seeking addiction treatment can meet with their doctor virtually, Oct. 6, 2020.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn continue, communities across the country are seeing an upsurge in mental illness and addiction.

In City Heights, a group of addiction specialists has gone online to meet with people in crisis. Before the pandemic, a telehealth appointment for addiction treatment was rare.

As Mental Health Crisis Builds, City Heights Doctors Turn To Telehealth
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

“Telehealth, or, not in-person services, would be 1% or less,” Dr. Mario Salguero said. He practices psychiatry and addiction medicine at La Maestra Community Health Centers, which has a clinic in City Heights.

Most of the patients Salguero works with are from the surrounding community. They had been receiving in-person treatments, either in a group or one-on-one, regularly. Seeing people and trusting them are huge for people dealing with substance abuse issues, he said.

RELATED: Coronavirus Pandemic Makes Telemedicine Mainstream, And It’s Probably Here To Stay

VIDEO: As Mental Health Crisis Builds, City Heights Doctors Turn To Telehealth

“At the core of substance-use disorder issues, is isolation," Salgeuro said. "You may be around people, you might be around a specialist, but not being able to connect, is an essential problem there.”

Salguero and the rest of the addiction team at La Maestra, which sees hundreds of patients, shifted more than 70% of their appointments to telehealth, in an effort to maintain connections through a perilous time.

“People knew we were there, and we were able to reach out to them,” he said. “For our sake’s as well, because we care for them, we care for people we help out, and it was a huge concern how can we continue to help all these people out. Sometimes we need to see people weekly, just to make sure they’re doing well.”

Using a system called NextGen, patients are able to use a web browser to chat with their doctors. If they lack access to reliable internet or a smartphone, they can come into a room at the clinic on Fairmount Avenue and speak to their doctor, safely, through an iPad.

Even after the eventual end of the pandemic, Salgeuro said he wants to make sure the telehealth option sticks around, especially for those who face barriers to traveling to the clinic.

“People missing appointments has dropped,” he said. “Being able to reach more people has been a good surprise.”

For anyone in San Diego dealing with depression, anxiety, or addiction issues, help is out there, Salgeuro said and he encourages people to seek it out through the La Maestra website.

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