Residential Treatment Facilities Innovate Policies Surrounding COVID-19 Pandemic


COVID-19, or Coronavirus, is a potentially deadly virus that has the whole world on edge. Because of the rate at which it is spreading, in conjunction with the ease with which it’s transmitted, many industries have had to make significant changes to their policies, and residential treatment facilities are no exception. Residential treatment facilities, including teen treatment facilities and many others, have been making policy updates on a regular basis in order to best isolate themselves and those in their charge from the virus. 

What is a Residential Treatment Facility?


A residential treatment facility is an intensive and closely-monitored facility where people in need may reside in order to receive comprehensive care for a number of conditions. Patients may stay in residential facilities anywhere from a couple of days to several months or longer. These facilities are staffed by trained professionals and are set up to provide full-time, intensive care to patients. Some treatment centers care for people with behavioral health disorders, and others deal with separate issues such as addiction. 

What are Some Policy Changes That Residential Treatment Facilities Have Been Making?

1. Screening Patients and Visitors for Symptoms: 

One of the primary things that residential treatment facilities are doing to protect themselves and their patients is screening people before allowing them to enter the facility and performing regular health checks on their patients. In particular, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines for screening patients and visitors. They advise that the staff focuses on identifying respiratory issues and the presence of a fever when evaluating health, as both of those symptoms are closely linked to COVID-19. 

2. Employing No-Visitor Policies: 

On the more extreme end of the spectrum, some residential treatment facilities have stopped allowing visitors at all. Because of the highly-contagious nature of Coronavirus, many facilities have decided that it is in the best interest of both the residents and staff to refuse outside visitors. With this new measure in place, the centers can ensure that they’re doing all they can to ward off potential contamination.

3. Using Protective Gear: 

Another way in which residential treatment facilities are seeking to protect their staff and residents is through the use of protective gear. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is recommended by the CDC for medical care workers amidst the outbreak, including those who work at residential treatment centers. They are encouraged to wear face masks and gloves as often as possible, especially when dealing with anyone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 or is exhibiting any symptoms. 

4. Utilizing Tele-Communication: 

In addition, many residential facilities are encouraging alternatives to their traditional means of treatment in light of the outbreak. This means that, for the time being, some centers are encouraging those who can be treated outside of their facility to consider that option rather than admitting themselves. 

In order to keep in line with the recommendations regarding social distancing, facilities are looking into ways to support their patients virtually when possible. One of the best options is to utilize tele-communication in order to conduct group and individual therapy sessions. In particular, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is offering regularly-updated guidelines on tele-communications in regards to therapy in order to maintain the necessary standard of care while utilizing this innovation.

5. Increasing the Hygiene of the Facility: 

Finally, one of the standard policy updates that every residential care facility is employing is a more intensive focus on the hygiene of their facility. While residential treatment centers must always adhere to certain standards of hygiene, they are now following updated recommendations in light of the COVID-19 situation. Treatment centers are being urged to clean and disinfect surfaces on a more regimented basis and have been encouraged to use the hottest possible setting when washing residents’ clothes in order to hopefully kill any germs which may be on the items. 

What are Some of the Hardships Associated With These Policy Changes? 

While the health and wellbeing of the staff and patients of residential treatment centers is paramount, unfortunately, there are hardships associated with some of these policy updates. Some of the most notable are:

  • Decreased admission into residential care facilities
  • Decreased contact with loved ones in care facilities
  • Lack of access to personal proactive gear
  • Lack of the technology necessary to conduct tele-communications
  • Increased wait time for new admissions
  • Increased wait time when visiting someone in a residential treatment facility due to health screenings
  • Increased anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic when confronted with policy updates
  • Increased time spent sanitizing the facility and certain items, such as laundry

How Can I Continue to Support a Loved One in a Residential Treatment Facility Despite Policy Updates? 

One of the biggest drawbacks of the policy updates at certain residential treatment facilities is the lack of contact with the outside world. While patients are being protected from COVID-19 through changes such as the no-visitor policy, they can also be harmed by the relative isolation that comes along with it. Many residents at teen treatment facilities in particular are highly dependent upon visitors to help with their treatment and allow them to feel supported. 

However, while you may not be able to visit a loved one at a residential treatment center in-person, there are still ways to stay in contact. One of the most common and effective ways is through the use of tele-communication. With this innovation, patients can still see their support system while they speak to them, which can be extremely important for behavioral health goals. 

Furthermore, some facilities are encouraging loved ones to send their residents care packages in order to help them feel supported during this difficult time. Simple items such as snacks and clothing can make a huge difference to someone who is dealing with serious behavioral health or addiction issues, so a care package can be an excellent way to nurture and support your loved one while still adhering to the new policy updates. 


Many residential treatment facilities are making necessary and prudent updates to their policies in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. The CDC has been providing clear guidelines for healthcare workers in order to help them make decisions about how to best protect their staff and patients while still providing their high standard of care. Though some of these changes may make communication with a loved one who is in a treatment facility a bit more difficult, the benefits of keeping everyone healthy are paramount. 

If you or someone you love is currently looking to be admitted to a residential care facility, reach out to them today in order to understand the ways in which they’re working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while still maintaining the integrity of their institution. 

Written by Colleen Burton, MA

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