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Patient demands rise amid shortage of mental healthcare workers

As the demand for mental health services continues to rise, the United States is seeing an extreme shortage of psychiatrists and mental healthcare professionals.

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 6:48 PM
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 6:53 PM

(St. Joseph,MO) As the demand for mental health services continues to rise, the United States is seeing an extreme shortage of psychiatrists and mental healthcare professionals. According to a report from the National Council for Behavioral Health, the pool of professionals in mental health related fields decreased by 10 percent from 2003 to 2013.The report also suggests the number of patients is expected outpace the number of available providers by 2025.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health one in five adult live with some form of a mental illness, but a less than 50 percent of those people received treatment in 2017.

Dr. Melisa Rempfer, Associate Professor of Psychology and Clinical Training Director at UMKC, said UMKC alumni feel it’s difficult to staff in rural communities and less financially lucrative fields like public mental health systems and public university health care programs.

"What we find in talking to our graduates who are out there in the workforce is that they have many more potential clients and community members to serve than there are staff at their respective agencies,"Rempfer said.

According to the National Council Medical Director Institute 55 percent of counties in the continental U.S. do not have psychiatrists at all, and 77 percent of U.S. counties have a severe shortages of psychiatrists and other behavioral health providers.

"Research shows that we do see an overall trend in the reduction of stigma about mental health and an increasing receptiveness to seeking mental health services,but coupled with the funding decreases we have and the increased cost of education; I think we have a lot of people who are willing to seek services, but the services haven't caught up to that,"Rempfer said.

The deficit of behavioral healthcare providers is creating long wait times for people needing immediate care.

Andrew Fisher, Licensed Counselor and owner of Fisher Counseling Services, said the average workload for clinicians is about 24 to 30 patients a week, and insurance coverage can play a big role in the time a clinician can spent with each patient.

“Not all insurance panels want to take on clinicians,” Fisher said.“It’s not uncommon for people not to have mental health in their [insurance] contract, and they don’t know it.”

A study from the National Library of Medicine found that insurance acceptance was significantly lower for psychiatrists than physicians of other specialties.

Fisher said for students transitioning into their own practice, working with insurance can be a challenge.

"To get on insurance panels is another hurdle,” Fisher said."My young clinician is provisionally licensed. To be provisionally licensed you have to be supervised for two years, before you can even apply to be on these panels."

To combat the growing demand for mental health services in rural communities, many licensed professionals are turning to Telehealth services to provide virtual counseling to patients, but Fisher said he has concerns about using telecounseling.

“I’m a combat veteran and I don’t necessarily hear very well, so it’s important for me to see the face and there is a lot that goes into play with actually having somebody come in and sit on the couch,” Fisher said.

Fisher does use the telehealth for emergency situations, but said telecounseling can also cause complications if the client and the provider aren't located in the same state or if the counselor isn’t licensed in the state where the client lives.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates 111million people across the country are living in communities with a shortage of mental health services, and if the current workforce doesn’t grow, the deficit will double by 2025.

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