Brianne Safer (MS ’20) began a year-long internship with Department of Psychiatry with the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders inpatient unit that transitioned to telehealth care following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brianne Safer (MS '20)
Brianne Safer (MS ’20)

In mid-March, Safer said she noticed her team became more creative with patient care as the hospital implemented restrictions for patient health and safety in response to the pandemic.

“This has taken a different level of creativity, flexibility, teamwork, and collaboration to find other ways to meet our patients’ needs,” Safer said.

Safer said that patients had to transition methods of communication for visitors who would have otherwise been able to visit the inpatient unit in person, including the temporary addition of video chat options for family members. Time limits for phone calls, which were permitted before the pandemic began, have also been extended, Safer said.

For students like Safer, the pandemic has given her an expanded understanding of what it means to be a health care provider.

“Coming into our graduate programs, we would have never dreamed or thought about becoming telehealth providers,” Safer said. “But, we pulled together and managed.”

Safer said telehealth platforms have made it more difficult to read a patient’s non-verbal communications, which has called for an adjustment in how to approach patient care.

“It’s not the same as in person, but it’s absolutely better than nothing at all,” she said. “I still feel like I have been able to build rapport with my patients and achieve some of their treatment goals. […] It’s a big transition; we’re all going through this.”

Safer is also volunteering her time with the Department of Psychiatry to assist in production of wellness webinars to support various clinics and departments for health care providers at UNC-Chapel Hill. The webinars include topics such as coping skills, and how to maintain boundaries while working at home.

“It’s really cool to see our people and our profession in action,” Safer said. “It’s inspiring to see people stepping up to be team players.”

Safer said it’s important for mental health care providers to make sure they also care for themselves during the pandemic.

“It’s not about being a hero and taking on too much,” Safer said. “It’s about taking on what you can and refilling your own cup to replenish your ability to help.”

Safer, who completed her undergraduate degree at Miami University in Ohio, said the pandemic has brought her student cohort together.

“It has been invaluable to practice what we trained for,” Safer said. “Now, we can use that.”

The Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling is housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences.