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Nonprofit's injection van helps ensure patients get the medication they need during COVID pandemic

'I just feel a lot better when I'm on it'
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Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-28 18:30:10-04

MILFORD, Ohio — Chey Johnson said he remembers all too well what life was like before he settled on the right medication for his schizoaffective disorder: bipolar type, and he doesn’t want to go back.

“I felt a lot of paranoia. It was a very dark time,” said Johnson, who is 33 and was diagnosed when he was 24. “I couldn’t go out to eat because I thought people were messing around with my food. I couldn’t listen to the radio because I thought people were putting certain songs that make me feel certain emotions. And not being able to trust the people that you love. It was a very dark time.”

Life has improved greatly for Johnson, he said, since he has been getting injections of haloperidol every four weeks through Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services. The injections work best for him, he said, because he doesn’t have to remember to take pills once or twice a day.

“It’s very day and night,” he said. “I’m more social. I can go out places. I’m not constantly paranoid. My anxiety’s down, my depression is down, and I just feel a lot better when I’m on it.”

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit the Tri-State, Johnson became concerned about going to get his injections at Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services’ office on Madison Road in Walnut Hills. Johnson lives with his grandmother and aunt in Milford, and he said he worried about becoming infected with the virus and transmitting it to them.

Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services shared those concerns. The agency repurposed a van that wasn’t being used because of the pandemic, and its community psychiatric nurses have been using the vehicle – now called the injection van – to visit patients where they live to administer the medicine they need.

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Chey Johnson

“Following up with those psychotropic medications is a very important part of treatment with us,” said Amanda Cody, a program manager at Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services. “The van just became the idea of how we can safely provide that service in the community to our clients for their safety and for our safety.”

Nurses from the agency’s ACT – or Assertive Community Treatment – Team have been using the injection van since April to visit roughly 200 patients per month and administer their medications.

Linda Venturato is Johnson’s ACT Team nurse.

“We wanted to create a neutral setting so we weren’t entering people’s homes where we could be putting them at risk, and they could be putting staff at risk,” Venturato said. “We can use a van that we can even ventilate, we can clean very easily, and we know those things help with the virus.”

Helping patients promptly

The van also helps ensure clients don’t miss their medication, which can lead to serious problems, she said.

“If you’re hearing voices, if you’re having delusions, if you’re having more social anxiety, if you’re getting depressed, the symptoms can be endless," she said. "And we don’t want anyone to have to experience those if it’s preventable. Ultimately we’re preventing our patients from going to the hospital because they were too late on their injection and having symptoms – or going to jail.”

The in-person visits also give Venturato and other ACT Team nurses the opportunity to check in with patients, see how they’re doing and make sure they are getting the treatment and services they need, she said.

“If in the moment I need to consult a doctor or if I need to connect a patient to a case manager or I need to get a hold of a supervisor, it is so easy for us to do that,” Venturato said. “And we’re able to help the patients promptly, and that makes so much of a difference.”

Johnson said he misses the social interactions that come from visiting Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services in Walnut Hills, but he’s grateful that he can continue to get his injections in a safe, reliable way.

“It took me a long time to come to the fact that I might have to take medications for the rest of my life, but being in and out of hospitals, that’s just not a life you want to live,” he said. “It’s very cool that they could come out with the van and stop the spread of everything and come to you and keep everything sanitary.”

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Chey Johnson, left, and Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services nurse Linda Venturato pose for a photo in front of the injection van on Sept. 18, 2020.

More information about Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.