NUTLEY, NJ - While Nutley sees a rise in COVID-19 cases, 33 as of Wednesday night and 4,402 statewide with a total of 62 deaths, Nutley Family Service Bureau continues to be there for their clients and the residents from the safety of their homes.

As of March 19, NFSB, which is a not-for-profit organization, has implemented Tele-health for their clients. Tele-health allows for the clinicians and their clients to meet through a smartphone, laptop screen or a tablet allowing for social distancing. The software is similar to Facetime or Zoom where clients and clinicians are able to see each other face to face without being in the same place. For those clients that do not have an electronic device a room is reserved at the NFSB Centre Street location for them to do a reverse Tele-health call with their clinician. Eileen Painter, director of NFSB, assures the room is sanitized after each client leaves.

“Tele-health is a virtual way to hold sessions by screen view. Done through an electronic health record, this is a feature of an electronic health record platform. The ability was there just it was never used because we feel it’s better to see clients face to face,” said NFSB Director of Clinical Services and Programming Joe Armentano, who holds a masters in social work and is a licensed clinical social worker. He added, “With the need that is there and the ability to keep business going, and be there to for the community and our clients we are using it for now at least until the ban is lifted on travel restrictions.”

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Tele-health is HIPPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant – the lines of communication are all protected by the technology and encryptions. According to Armentano, usually phone sessions are not covered by health insurance, however some insurance carriers are allowing phone sessions to count under the coverage plan.

“Most of our sessions now are around anxiety. People are going back to where they were, working into crisis mode. Our schedules are full, people are responding. We are taking new cases when we can. We are working case by case and clinician by clinician,” he said.

Painter added, “The present atmosphere has escalated their underlying issues. People spend more time indoors and lose there sense of normalcy. This crisis has not only 1) exacerbated pre-existing anxieties and depressions, but also has 2) unmasked unrecognized mental health issues in people, as well as 3) heightened emotional reaction to the social, economic and medical stressors in the general population at large—all of which will exponentially increase as the virus spreads and its effects become more pervasive.”

NFSB has nine clinicians, which include licensed clinical social workers, licensed social workers, licensed professional counselors, and a licensed clinical alcohol drug counselor. Two clinicians are bilingual and one clinician is trilingual. They are able to speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French-Creole.

According to Painter, two new hires are supposed to start but the Coronavirus Pandemic has made it difficult. She said they should start within four to six weeks. They also have one master of social work student intern on site, the rest of the interns were unable stay due to their universities refusing access.

Before Gov. Phil Murphy implemented Executive Order No. 107 requiring no gatherings and only essential businesses to remain open, the staff at NFSB was going to provide Tele-Health from their offices. “Once we saw day by day it was getting precautious we decided to work from our homes,” he said.

NFSB is being advised by the Nutley Health Department. Painter has been attending the OEM (Office of Emergency Management) meetings which dictate their further actions.

Armentano said, “Eileen’s background in emergency management is huge and helpful. She is a great leader.”

NFSB is composed of three inter-agency components: The psychotherapy center, the food pantry, and the thrift shop.  They function independently from each other, but all are related. “Functions across operations enable comprehensive community services while providing volunteer and financial support to strength to the entire organization. The impact of the COVID-19 has a compounding negative effect across agency operations,” said Painter.

Fundraisers such as the second annual Night at the Races had to be canceled and the annual Scouting for Food, food drive had to be postponed. NFSB’s food pantry receives approximately 90 percent of its shelf stock from the annual food drive, which is always held in March. “As a result, we particularly are in extremely low reserves at a time when the need has escalated,” said Painter.

NFSB received $25,000 from the township for their food pantry this year, which was cut back in 2017 from the $65,000 they were receiving. During the March 17 meeting, noted in a resolution, the township gave NFSB an additional $25,000 to run the food pantry.

NFSB also received funding from their thrift shop, which was recently moved to their annex, the former Red Cross Building, also on Chestnut Street and directly next door to the psychotherapy building. “The shop has been closed for the duration of the crisis. A crucial revenue stream, as 100 percent of the funds raised from its operations directly support NFSB services and programs, has been temporarily disrupted,” said Painter.

While the schools remain closed, NFSB is helping with school meal distribution to those children who need it in the township. “The volunteer force, which is the functional backbone of NFSB has been drastically reduced, with only a skeleton crew to carry out only the most vital food pantry and school meal efforts,” said Painter.

“Nutley as a community, I think, in experiencing incidents like this bring out the best in the community. We really feel that we are part of something bigger, in terms that we are working with so many other community members,” Armentano said.

“We are just delighted to be offering the mental health services with maintaining the health and safety of our clients and staffers. People just need to be kind to themselves and each other,” Painter said.

Armentano shares some advice with the residents of Nutley. “Routine –the easiest time to fall in the rabbit hole of not following a routine. Stick to regular routine. Look for the positive ways that technology and social media can be used…to connect – to say connected and be connected. Spend time with families and embrace it and see it as the flip side of fear and anxiety. Shut the news off and take out a board game,” he said.

For more information on NFSB visit, nutleyfamily.org. Donations can be made through their website.

Keep up with all Coronavirus news in TAPinto Nutley's Health and Wellness section. 

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