Being There: At the Nathaniel Clinic Front Desk During the Pandemic

The elevator chime prompts Karin Griffin to put on her mask as she crosses around the front desk to the lobby’s glass doors. It’s late afternoon on a Friday, two weeks into the closure of all non-essential businesses in New York. The Nathaniel Clinic had completed the day’s scheduled in-person appointments. While still fielding calls and helping clients and therapists coordinate telephonic services, Karin had already begun to prep for the bus ride home.

The man at the door claims to have an appointment with a psychiatrist. Karin, the clinic’s Medical Scheduler, is doubtful. Though still fielding telehealth calls, psychiatrists had left the clinic office for the afternoon. Also, Karin doesn’t recognize the man, unusual with a clinic client.

“Then he asked me for someone who works [in CASES’ programs] upstairs,” Karin recounts, “but those offices are only open for specific appointments. The gentleman went upstairs to check for himself and then came back. That’s when he said he was having suicidal thoughts.”

Karin followed CASES’ protocol and gave the man a mask and gloves and asked him to sit in the clinic’s otherwise empty waiting room. Suicide risk is one of several reasons most of CASES’ licensed mental health treatment programs have been deemed essential by New York State. That afternoon at the clinic, one of CASES’ Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners in our mobile treatment teams was onsite. She met with the man to triage his symptoms. He eventually agreed to let Karin call EMS.

“I think it’s a good thing I’m here,” Karin says, when asked about her continuing work in the clinic office during the pandemic. “I just do what I normally do.”

In response to COVID-19, the clinic has limited in-person visits to psychiatric evaluation, access to phones for clients who need telehealth services but don’t have a phone, injectable medication administration, and crisis services. While foot traffic has lessened, Karin reports an increase in calls to the clinic.

“The phones have been more busy,” she says. “People want to know if we’re still open. They’re surprised we’re still open. I get a lot of calls from doctors. They’re happy we’re taking referrals.”

Karin says the pandemic seems to be increasing the number of people seeking help.

“With everything that’s going on, with people losing jobs and stressing over the pandemic, there’s people out there who worry and need help,” she says. “We need to be here for them. I’m definitely happy to be a part of that.”

Though she’s heard from many that they prefer telehealth services given the risk of COVID-19, Karin misses seeing the clinic’s regular clients.

“I like to try and remember something they told me about last week,” Karin explains. “I like for them to feel normal. You should have one place that you come to that you feel comfortable and not judged by how you look and how you act. Nobody should be treated that way.”

During the pandemic, CASES’ Nathaniel Clinic continues to accept referrals, enroll new clients, and deliver services, including mental health counseling, psychiatric evaluation, and health and wellness monitoring.

The clinic accepts walk-in appointments every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 AM-2PM, with walk-ins meeting by phone in our clinic offices with the clinic’s Intake Specialist. To make a referral or seek help, please complete this form, email, or call (212) 553-6708.