COVID-19 and the Rapid Expansion of Telehealth in Social and Behavioral Health Services


  • Melissa Hirschi University of Memphis
  • Anna L. Hunter
  • Susan L. Neely-Barnes
  • Cherry C. Malone
  • Julie Meiman
  • Elena Delavega



COVID-19, Telehealth, Technology, Behavioral Health Services, Social Services


The spread of COVID-19 changed the landscape of how social service agencies operate. Essential services providers have had to adapt and innovate in order to carry out their mission. As a result, technology has become an integral part of their service model, with an increased emphasis on telehealth services. For many agencies, the abrupt transition to remote services has brought about important conversations around access, use, policy, effectiveness, and efficiency. A qualitative, narrative study was conducted with CEOs or social work directors of 37 social service agencies in the Mid-South region to understand their experience and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were conducted and data were transcribed and analyzed. Thematic analysis highlighted seven themes: 1) a rapid transition to virtual services, 2) the need to improve infrastructure, 3) new technology and innovation, 4) barriers, 5) benefits, 6) funding, and 7) changes that will be kept. Implications at the client level include continuing to offer telehealth services. At the agency level, implications include managing the logistics of telehealth and the need for insurance and regulator changes. Implications for social work include ethical considerations for providing telehealth services and educating current and future social workers in the use of telehealth services.

Author Biographies

Anna L. Hunter

School of Social Work, University of Memphis

MSW Student

Julie Meiman

University of Memphis, School of Social Work

MSW Student


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