The COVID-19 pandemic shifted many face-to-face interactions online, including mental health services, which saw demand rise sharply over the last year.
But unless state officials act, many service providers could end telehealth coverage for mental health counseling and services when the declared state of emergency ends in New York, an audit by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office warned.
The audit, obtained by Spectrum News 1 on Thursday, found 307 of 448 serivce providers offering more than 1,000 mental health telehealth programs would not be approved to do so once the declared emergency ends. That could risk some patients from continuing to access care and services remotely, the audit found.
At the same time, the audit warned the Office of Mental Health lacks a defined process to continually monitor telehealth services for mental health programs. As a result, the audit found, oversight issues for the delivery of services could occur.
New York's state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year now allowed existing regulations to be waived, many of them in health care as the pandemic shifted more interactions online. The Office of Mental Health Services streamlined its approval process for providers to offer the telehealth services for providers to incorporate the services online.
The audit recommended the Office of Mental Health work with service providers to boost telehealth services to clients when deemed an appropriate method of treatment.
"At a time of vastly increased need, the Office of Mental Health needs to step up its efforts to make sure providers are able to see clients remotely beyond the COVID pandemic and increase its oversight for those that do," DiNapoli said in a statement. "I urge the office to use our recommendations to better reach all who may need mental health services.”
In a statement, Office of Mental Health spokesman Jim Plastiras pointed to the agency's efforts to expand telehealth access, and state officials plan to ensure access through telehealth won't be interrupted.
“To ensure that that individuals receiving mental health services were able to access treatment safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, OMH issued a regulatory waiver to allow all providers to use telehealth services without undergoing the usual approval process," he said. "We also streamlined our approval process and have to date approved 1,182 new sites to continue to use tele-mental health after the emergency order. As a result, access to care was largely uninterrupted and telehealth claims from licensed OMH clinics increased from 35% of claims in March 2020 to 90% of claims in April 2020 and have remained at high levels. As we recover from the pandemic, OMH plans to maintain access to tele-mental health while also ensuring that provider usage is regularly reviewed during recertification visits.”