COVID-19 Warm Line will close Nov. 30

Virginia C.O.P.E.S.: A Retrospective
Rachel Beck-Berman, MHAV Virginia C.O.P.E.S. Team Lead

Virginia residents are entering the twentieth month of the COVID-19 global pandemic. According to the Virginia Department of Health’s measures, the commonwealth has confirmed over 700,000 cases of COVID to date. In addition to the pandemic’s impact on physical health, the damage to Virginians’ mental health has been without precedent, and its consequences may linger well into the future.

Mental Health America of Virginia helped form the state-wide mental health response to this crisis by contributing its years of expertise in operating a warm line for mental health support. Partnering with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) and the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards (VACSB), we created a mental health warmline in May 2020 to support anyone struggling to cope with the effects and circumstances such as isolation, fear, grief and anxiety around COVID 19. Already extended beyond its original timeline, the Virginia C.O.P.E.S. line will close up this month, but its timely response to the pandemic disaster can serve as a successful model of innovative public/private partnership for responding to future catastrophic events.

Virginia C.O.P.E.S. stands for compassionate, optimistic, person-centered, empowering support. I cannot think of better words to describe the program and team of dedicated and genuinely caring individuals who worked tirelessly to make those ideals a reality.

DBHDS initiated the VA C.O.P.E.S. Warmline, with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in partnership with the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). DBHDS selected Mental Health America of Virginia (MHAV) and the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards (VACSB) as agency partners to run warmline teams of Crisis Counselors.

Virginia C.O.P.E.S. trained a total of 19 Crisis Counselors from a variety of backgrounds and professional experiences to listen and connect callers and texters to critical resources in their communities. To date, VA C.O.P.E.S has successfully helped over 5,000 people from all parts of Virginia to navigate serious challenges through call and text support. The warmline also provided outreach to over 1,000 local, state, and national agencies and organizations.

Outreach continued over the past year and focused on connecting with populations most directly impacted by the pandemic, including individuals living in a state of poverty, homlessness, and insufficient access to healthcare. The team also sent out thousands of postcards with the warmline’s information to rural areas and communities with limited broadband access. Other special populations included essential workers, unemployed Virginians, and populations with access and functional needs.

Virginia C.O.P.E.S. was committed to making mental health support accessible to everyone and mitigating as many barriers to care as possible. This is why the program hired multilingual counselors who could support Spanish speakers and implemented Language line services for the warmline in Arabic, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

The program was originally given an end date in May 2021, but VA C.O.P.E.S reported such positive engagement and success that it was granted an extension to operate through the end of November 2021. The warmline was instrumental in Virginia’s COVID-19 support efforts at a time when people needed it most. The team’s compassionate response to callers in their time of need continues to be a source of inspiration and pride to me as a supervisor. The amount of care and thoughtfulness taken for every interaction left a lasting impression of competence, flexibility and innovation.

Though the warmline is ending, there are many other free resources that will remain available to assist Virginians. Anyone who contacts the warmline after November 30th will be met with an automated message directing them to our online resource database as well as their local Community Services Board, Emergency Services, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The VA C.O.P.E.S. website, VACOPES.com, will also continue operating for at least a year to ensure everyone can access the free resource database. The closure of any program is bittersweet, but I take great comfort in knowing that the team went above and beyond to instill hope in our community and leave the commonwealth in a better state of mental health.