Rural and urban clinician views on COVID-19’s impact on substance use treatment for individuals on community supervision in Kentucky

Carrie B. Oser, Maria Rockett, Sebastian Otero, Evan Batty, Marisa Booty, Rachel Gressick, Michele Staton, Hannah K. Knudsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic produced system-level changes within the criminal legal system and community-based substance use disorder (SUD) treatment system with impacts on recovery efforts. This study examines rural and urban clinicians’ perspectives of COVID-19 on SUD treatment delivery for people on community supervision. Methods: Virtual qualitative interviews were conducted between April and October 2020 with 25 community supervision clinicians employed by Kentucky’s Department of Corrections (DOC), who conduct assessments and facilitate community-based treatment linkages for individuals on probation or parole. Transcripts were analyzed in NVivo using directed content analysis methods. Results: Clinicians were predominantly white (92%) and female (88%) with an average of over 9 years working in the SUD treatment field and 4.6 years in their current job. Four COVID-19 themes were identified by both rural and urban clinicians including: (1) telehealth increases the modes of communication, but (2) also creates paperwork and technological challenges, (3) telehealth requires more effort for inter/intra-agency collaboration, and (4) it limits client information (e.g., no urine drug screens). Two additional rural-specific themes emerged related to COVID-19: (5) increasing telehealth options removes SUD treatment transportation barriers and (6) requires flexibility with programmatic requirements for rural clients. Conclusions: Findings indicate the need for community-based SUD treatment providers approved or contracted by DOC to support and train clients to access technology and improve information-sharing with community supervision officers. A positive lesson learned from COVID-19 transitions was a reduction in costly travel for rural clients, allowing for greater engagement and treatment adherence. Telehealth should continue to be included within the SUD continuum of care, especially to promote equitable services for individuals from rural areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalHealth and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • COVID-19
  • Clinician
  • People on community supervision
  • Rural
  • Substance use disorder treatment
  • Urban

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Law


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