Diane Pelts, the chief executive officer of AuSable Valley Community Mental Health, gives a report on the agencies activities during a 2019 Iosco County Board of Commissioners meeting. This year the report was given via a video conferencing app.

TAWAS CITY – The activities of AuSable Valley Community Mental Health, in the times of the Coronavirus pandemic, were discussed with the Iosco County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 2 during the board’s regular meeting.

The meeting was held via video conferencing and Diane Pelts, chief executive officer for AVCMH, gave the presentation for the agency, which encompasses Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties. The upshot of the presentation is that despite the pandemic requiring many agencies to go remote, or limit services, because of social distancing requirements, those at the department are working with the public to provide mental health services all the same, Pelts said.

She also presented the 2021 budget for the agency, and gave a request for the Iosco County share for the upcoming budget. In total the agency requested $67,935 from Iosco County for county continuation, or 46.04 percent of the $147,553 requested from the three counties. 

Pelts said from Ogemaw $56,944 was requested and from Oscoda County $22,674 was requested. Iosco County Clerk/Co-Administrator Nancy Huebel said the Iosco County share would be included in the county’s budget. The county appropriation is just a small amount of the agency’s $28 million budget for 2021.

Pelts recognized that this year was unique to give the presentation due to the fact that it had to take place over the video conferencing app Zoom.

“I don’t think that anyone would dispute that this has been a very different year, especially with the pandemic,” she said, adding that the agency has had to be flexible and able to switch u things that they do and how they do them. 

Pelts started off her report by talking about activities that were taking place with the agency pre-COVID. She said that before the state was locked down there were good things happening with the agency 

“We had a slight increase in service deliveries, that was admissions for children with severe emotional disturbances, we racked up a little bit, just under 2,900 people,” she said. “You can see that 44 percent of the number of people that we served came from Iosco County, and just under $9 million dollars of our annual budget was spent in Iosco County.”

Pelts said something that will be taking place for the second year in a row will help those who may have been incarcerated in jail in the county. 

“We are actually going to be starting year two of having a full-time mental health and substance abuse case worker in our jails in Iosco County and Ogemaw County, that has been a very positive placement in the jail,” Pelts told commissioners.

She said the position is funded through the liquor tax funding dollars that are received by the agency from the state.

The case manager is available for a number of things; emergency screenings, discharge planning, reentry into the community, and really being able to assist with any related behavior health conditions that may arise while people are incarcerated,” she said.

Pelts told commissioners that a large amount of the population have been getting access to services from the agency through an online application called the myStrength app. Information on getting the app can be found by visiting AVCMH.ORG and following the resources links .

“The application helps with physical and mental health, it was available to every member of the community, but it helps to improve someone’s overall health and wellbeing by using evidence based practices, it travels with them, whatever they may need,” Pelts told commissioners.

She said that there have been well over 400 downloads of the application, which she said is interactive and changes daily and is tailored to the person’s needs.

She said that according to data collected on the app, there are more females than males using it and the majority demographic using the app are in the 25 to 34 age range. Pelts said that the app can be useful in the time of the pandemic for mental health needs.

“We know that there is a very large need for mental health care,” she said. “Prior to COVID-19 and especially now, there is just so much going on with people have experienced, healthcare workers, family members who have not been able to be with those who have died when they passed, and a huge under served behavior health need.”

She said that the agency is lose to having the app for its second year, and hopes to expand the services available on the app.

“I want to hone in on the fact that this is available to everyone at no cost at all,” she said of the program.

Pelts said that during the pandemic the agency has also been the beneficiary of several grants to help with COVID related issues. She said that one grant was just under $100,000 and was earmarked to help staff members and purchasing personal protection equipment to keep them safe when they interact with those they are assisting through the agency.

Part of the grant funding was also used to outfit a home in Oscoda County that would be used as a quarantine home for patients who may have been infected with COVID, Pelts said. She said although the home is available, it has yet to be used.

One block grant that the agency got and is implementing is working to keep patients that are handled through the agency off cigarettes.

“A lot of our consumers smoke, so if we  an get them the special training and get them to stop smoking, we are hoping to advance their health,” she said.

Pelts said one of the benefits of the pandemic has been that telemedicine restrictions, such as patients getting doctor’s appointments over the phone, have  been eased. Pelts said now the agency can do case management with individuals over the phone in some cases, and now those cases are able to be reimbursed by Medicaid.

“We are still supporting everyone the same way with services, whether it is telephone, or face to face services,” she said.