WEST ROCKHILL — The opioid epidemic, new ways of providing treatment during the novel coronavirus pandemic, telehealth and regulatory changes were some of the issues discussed during a Sept. 14 visit to Penn Foundation by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan.

“It's National Recovery Month and so we're out talking about the opioids issue and really talking about all of the impact that our ongoing efforts to address the opioid epidemic in the United States, how they're being affected by COVID-19 and the shutdowns,” Hargan said during an interview following the discussion with Penn Foundation CEO and President Wayne Mugrauer, Penn Foundation Board Chair Dorothy Weik-Hange and other Penn Foundation senior leaders.

The pandemic brought on questions including how to continue providing services for people who are socially isolated, Hargan said.

“It's good to hear that places like Penn Foundation are finding ways to serve their patients in this circumstance,” he said.

While in-person treatments continue in some cases, remote services are also increasing, Mugrauer said.

“Because of social isolation and all the issues associated with COVID-19, we're doing more work using telehealth and less face-to-face,” he said.

Hargan said one of the things he heard in the Penn Foundation visit was that the change to more remote treatment might be permanent, “that this is not a situation where people are kind of making the best of it and they're gonna go back to their old patterns before the pandemic, but that a lot of patients are gonna choose and want to receive care remotely.”

Hargan, who as deputy secretary is the Health & Human Services chief operating officer, was acting secretary from October 2017 to January 2018 when current Secretary Alex Azar was sworn in. The visit to Penn Foundation was his first time there, Hargan said. Other Sept. 14 stops included ones in Scranton and Harrisburg, he said.

“We were very appreciative of his interest in the work of Penn Foundation as we manage the challenge of safely caring for people in a world of COVID-19 while we do all the other work that we do in behavioral health and substance disorder,” Magrauer said.

“I think he was very interested to hear how regulation coming down from Washington affects people in the trenches on a literal day-to-day basis,” Weik-Hange said. “All of the staff gave excellent answers of how what Washington does affects what Penn Foundation does.”

There are existing regulations that date back to the 1960s and should be updated, Mugrauer said.

Penn Foundation serves 20,000 people a year, he said.

Headquartered across the street from Grand View Hospital in West Rockhill, Penn Foundation, which provides mental health and substance abuse treatment, has satellite offices in Colmar, Souderton, Pottstown and Exton.

“National Recovery Month is a national observance to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and to celebrate the people who recover,” a Penn Foundation release said. “It also serves to reduce the stigma and misconceptions that cloud public understanding of these diseases, potentially discouraging people from seeking help.”

During the month, Penn Foundation is launching a new Outpatient Detox Program.

“This program will allow individuals to withdraw from opiates, benzodiazepines, and/or alcohol in the comfort of their own home while under the careful supervision of Penn Foundation's licensed staff,” a release about the program said.

“We are pleased to begin offering our detox services in an outpatient setting,” Director of Clinical Services Julie Williams said in the release. “Not everyone is comfortable entering an inpatient unit to begin treatment. This new service removes that barrier and allows us to meet clients where they are to help them begin their recovery journey.”

Information about the Outpatient Detox Program or other treatment services is available by calling Penn Foundation's Recovery Center at 215-257-9999.

Other Penn Foundation programs include a suicide prevention Zoom webinar, “Building Resilient Men and Women … One Child at a Time,” which will be held 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22. Dr. Michael J. Bradley will be the speaker in the free webinar. Registration is available on the www.pennfoundation.org website under the News & Events tab, by emailing dryan@pennfoundation.org or by calling Deb Ryan at 215-453-5165.

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