RIT University News: Telehealth connects homeless with therapists training at RIT

Susan Gawlowicz from RIT’s University News writes about how Professor Caroline Easton leads a team of therapists in a doctoral training program to provide telepsychology services to House of Mercy residents.

Residents of a homeless shelter in Rochester are continuing to receive therapy during the coronavirus pandemic from a team of therapists in a clinical internship program at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The doctoral training program began as an exercise in using telepsychology to deliver care to a marginalized and underserved population. When New York shut down in March to stem the spreading virus, the therapists were already prepared to apply the telehealth protocols in the crisis.

“We didn’t skip a beat because we had this going pre-COVID-19,” said Caroline Easton ’90 (biotechnology), professor in the biomedical sciences program. “We had already started implementing our telepsych program at the House of Mercy homeless shelter. We’re able to talk to them on the phone and give them emotional support and ease their anxieties and help with cravings.”

Easton, who is also director of RIT’s Priority Behavioral Health and Clinical Psychology Internship, funded the training program at House of Mercy with a $1.4 million grant she received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant helped purchase the teleconferencing technology—video cameras, monitors, tablets—and make the program possible in conjunction with support Easton and the House of Mercy won from Greater Rochester Health Foundation, Farash Foundation, and ESL Charitable Foundation.

“Caroline and her team are reaching out personally to those within the house who are mentally ill and checking in with them,” said Sister Grace Miller, founder and executive director of House of Mercy.  “Right now, Caroline is our only support for our folks.”

Thousands of homeless people in the Rochester community rely on at the House of Mercy for food, shelter, counseling and advocacy. Sister Grace and her small staff are watching the residents closely. They installed washing stations and are taking temperatures daily.

“We’ve put some of our guests at a hotel, directed by the county, and kept some here,” she said. “We have a real concern for the lack of care for the mentally ill. They’re not getting the help they need, especially now during this crisis. They’ve been forgotten.”

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