Tucson wellness organization’s innovative telehealth programs expand access to integrative health

When Integrative Touch for Kids started over 17 years ago, it brought a unique approach to treatment that made a difference in care and recovery for children and their families facing chronic health conditions.

The organization’s integrative health practitioners visited patients in pediatric hospital settings to help reduce stress through meditation, breath work, acupressure, massage, and more. Away from the hospital, they held healing retreats for children and caregivers, palliative care clinics, and community clinics with the goal of transforming trauma and ending isolation in illness.

When Covid-19 hit Southern Arizona, forcing workers and families into lockdown, the organization quickly changed how it treated children and offered care, turning to what many were using for work, doctor appointments, and keeping in touch with family—the computer.

Kate Frazee, Integrative Touch vice president of programs and community wellness, said taking the telehealth route was very different for the organization, but there wasn’t much of a choice when it came to their mission to improve children’s lives.

“Historically, we've served in clinical spaces in-person here in Tucson and regionally. We've had a lot of families travel from out of state to come to our retreats, but we've never done telehealth,” Frazee said.

“After the onset of the pandemic we are in a space where all our programs were in-person with immune compromised groups in the hospital, and immediately all of that became improbable. We got super clear on what was important to us, and it was that people were not suffering in isolation. We knew we had to transform to meet their needs.”

That was the birth of their telehealth programming, which included a youth program that serves children and their siblings with social, emotional, and medical needs to meet with other youth over the telephone and on Zoom for social and emotional support.

“We have had all sorts of kids in our TeleFriend program. We had kids who have lost siblings. We had kids who've lost parents. TeleFriend provided joy and friendship during a time of isolation. During the pandemic this was a big part of their social interaction,” Frazee explained.

The TeleFriend program matches two volunteers, a young person, and an adult, to offer intergenerational friendship and support with conversational topics, with the young patient to form a team. The matched teams meet for up to eight weeks. At the conclusion of this period, the patient can choose to either explore new connections or remain with their original partners, fostering continued mutual growth.

The program's growth mainly stemmed from word-of-mouth, social media, school channels, and online volunteer listings. Volunteers joined from locations as far away as Dubai, Laos, and Canada. Frazee mentioned that data gathered during the pandemic revealed its efficacy in assisting children. Patients that participated in the TeleFriend program reported a 41 percent average reduction in anxiety and 20 percent average decrease in pain following a single session.

Although the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended, the organization continues to offer their telehealth programs, which includes options tailored for adults as well. Integrative Touch for Kids has also recently been renamed to Integrative Touch to reflect the other services offered to parents, caregivers, and other adults facing their own set of challenges. Their TeleWellness program matches one adult with two members of the Integrative Touch Healing Team for a 10-week period of personalized wellness education and experiences. Following the completion of the full TeleWellness series, some participants reported decreased anxiety, reductions in pain, and increases of overall sense of well-being.

Integrative Touch also opened a healing center in Tucson, that serves as a hub for all their in-person and telehealth programs. The Healing Center is for anyone in search of healing and is now home to all their programs--both telehealth and in-person.

“We really wanted everyone in our service population to see themselves in the umbrella of our care,” Frazee said regarding the name change. “Our updated mission is to provide connection, wellness and healing opportunities that change the lives of anyone touched by pain, suffering, or medical challenges. Integrative Touch is committed to ending isolation and illness and transforming trauma through togetherness. Our vision is to change the way people experience health and healing as a community.”

Telehealth remains part of that vision. Frazee said, “Meeting people where they are in their healing journey is critical, and we deliver a depth of care through both in-person and virtual treatments.”

“Adding telehealth to our portfolio of care has been such a profound development,” she said. “There are always going to be children in remote areas with limited transportation that need social experiences. There are always going to be adults who are exhausted, injured, or ill who cannot visit our healing center in person. Now we can be there for them, and their families.”

About the Author

Mari Herreras's picture

Mari Herreras is the Communications Manager for the Arizona Telemedicine Program and Southwest Telehealth Resource Center. She has worked in marketing and communications in publishing and nonprofits, as well as an award-winning journalism career for community and alternative newsweeklies in Tucson, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Wenatchee, Washington.

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