EDINBURG — With many people in quarantine, local physicians are getting creative with ways to stay in communication with patients while keeping a safe distance.

“Currently telehealth is being used in the hospital to provide accessibility for the doctor to be able to see his patients remotely in the event that there’s a situation where he can’t physically go see the patients face to face,” Linda Cantu, director of the Assessment and Referral Department at South Texas Health System Behavioral said. “He’s utilizing telehealth — telemedicine. They also call it telepsychiatry, for him to remotely see the patient face to face, and then have that communication with the patient and make the treatment recommendations as necessary.”

In the event of a crisis, doctors will be available to talk to patients about treatment plans.

“Also communicating with the treatment team, if it has to be done remotely, they are able to all meet together without being present with each other through telepsychiatry,” Cantu said.

The program that physicians are using is similar to a video chat. Doctors can communicate using their computers and tablets.

Dr. Ruben Rinero-Fuentes, a psychiatrist at South Texas Health System Behavioral in Edinburg demonstrates the program used by physicians in order to stay in contact with patients from a safe distance. (Francisco E. Jimenez | fjimenez@themonitor.com)

For individuals who may be in need of help with mental health related issues, counselors are on-hand 24-7 via a hotline.

“We have our Assessment and Referral Department which operates 24-7,” Cantu said. “It’s available to the public. We also offer free assessments. We do have people from the community who come here seeking services, but because of the current situation with people being homebound, they may not be able to try to reach out for those services. We want to be able to let them know that we are still available via phone by calling our crisis line and speaking to a licensed counselor about their situation.”

Cantu said that the facility is normally full with individuals seeking help for mental health related issues. On Friday afternoon, the facility was empty.

She said that she is worried about people who may be dealing with a crisis brought upon by COVID-19. She wants people to know that there are counselors and services available at South Texas Health System Behavioral despite the fact that a physical distance must be maintained.

“People don’t need to be dealing with a crisis to a point where something might get out of hand and someone may be in danger of hurting themselves or hurting someone else,” Cantu said. “If they reach out to us early enough, we can provide avenues to try to mitigate that crisis, as well as people who are struggling with symptoms at home who may not have anybody to talk to.

“These feelings may be new to them. Our licensed counselors are also available to speak to them and share information with them and refer them to whatever type of services are needed at that time.”

Anyone in need of counseling, or someone to speak to, is encouraged to call the South Texas Health System Behavioral 24-7 hotline at (956) 388-1300.