Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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When Pandemic Ends In-Person Meetings, Those Needing Anonymous Mental Health Help May Go Without

Editor’s Note: This article is part of’s ongoing series, “The Beaver County Coronavirus Chronicles,” the county’s historical experience of the pandemic. Click here to see more of the series.


As a mental health professional for many years in Beaver, psychiatrist Dr. Suzanne Vogel-Scibilia said the coronavirus quarantine has her concerned about two areas of mental health treatment that telephone calls and virtual meeting platforms like Zoom just won’t cover.

Governor Tom Wolf has ordered Pennsylvania residents to stay at home except for “certain essential activities and work to provide life-saving business and government services,” according to the stay-at-home order.

One area of Vogel-Scibilia’s concern is known as drop-in centers, where people with serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) can seek immediate treatment.

Her other concern encompasses group meeting organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where people seeking support for addiction can meet with fellow recovering addicts in a group setting to gain and receive insight to strengthen them in their recovery.

In the case of the drop-in centers, “A lot of those programs have had to close because 15 to 20 people were congregating,” and violating the quarantine, she said.

But the group meeting organizations –AA and Narcotics Anonymous for people with substance addictions, and Alanon and Naranon for family members coping with relatives with addictions – also would violate the stay-at-home order.

Even if meetings for those support groups could be done virtually, “how do you tell people?” said Vogel-Scibilia, who is semi-retired and also had continued volunteering in the mental health field.

“There’s no contact information; it’s anonymous. They didn’t really have a chance to get names (before the stay-at-home order came down). Some may be trying to meet with social distancing,” but the Beaver County AA website had no information about any social distancing or virtual ways to conduct meetings.

“You can’t have people coming in to go to a group,” the psychiatrist said.


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Sandra Donovan
Sandra Donovan
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing reporter. She previously spent 17 years as a reporter and editor with the Beaver County and Allegheny Times and another dozen years as a freelancer for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She has won local and state journalism awards. A graduate of Penn State University Park, she also holds a master's degree from Carnegie Mellon University.

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