Rural areas lack mental health professionals

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Amid a national shortage of psychiatrists, and Michigan is among the states that lack enough mental health professionals and facilities, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“There is a shortage of service providers, psychiatrists and physicians that are able to work with people that have mental illness and prescribe medications,” said Kathleen Gross, executive director of the Michigan Psychiatric Society. “There is shortage of funding in the state for community mental health centers to provide a great deal of service to the citizens.”
The U.P. and Northeast Michigan face the most serious shortages, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Among 15 U.P. counties, 13 are designated as shortage areas. Ten of the 11 Northeast Michigan counties have the same designation.

An assessment conducted in 2012 by the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, found that an estimated 24.2 percent of Western U.P. adults have at some point in their lives been told they had a depression disorder. The local estimated lifetime depression diagnosis rates were higher among adults younger than 65.
According to NorthCare Network in Marquette, five mental health centers are available in the U.P., with each center serving two to four counties.
“We have two psychiatrists on staff and we also contract with a company for tele-psychiatry,” said Dawn Stromer, the human resources director of the Copper Country Community Mental Health Center in Houghton. Stromer added that the center can’t attract the psychiatrists to this place because it’s rural area.
Gross of the Psychiatric Society also cited a parity problem in the state.
“If you have diabetes, you are not limited to visits with doctors. But with mental illness there is a limit. In Michigan, there is a limitation of how many times you can go and visit a doctor and get treatment for mental illness. But the federal Affordable Care Act said that mental illness needs to be treated as other illnesses,” she said.
According to Diane Hayka, executive secretary at the Northeast Michigan Community Mental Health Authority, there is one medical director who is also a psychiatrist, one psychiatrist contracted for eight hours a week and one psychiatrist for children in the Northeast region.
The authority serves Alcona, Mount Morency, Alpena, and Presque Isle counties.
As for the reason for the shortage in northeast region, Hayka said is because of the salary and where mental health providers want to live.
“It is a preferential choice problem,” said Hayka. “We are quite rural. And that has quite a bearing on whether psychiatrists want to move in this area.
“The population is the same. When you deal with people with mental illness across the board, that is the same population whether you live in rural Northeast Michigan or urban centers. ”
Hayka said there are difficulties getting promising psychiatrists to work in rural places.
According to the new Health and Human Services report, Michigan has 223 designated “health professional shortage areas. Of this amount, 42 are geographic areas and 181 are facilities such as public or nonprofit, state or federal correctional institutions, state or county mental hospitals, federally qualified health centers, or rural health clinics.
The number of designated shortage areas rose by 32 compared to last year. The federal report also said the state needs 66 more mental health practitioners, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurse specialists and marriage and family therapists, seven fewer than last year.
Programs are underway to hire and maintain more psychiatrists for some areas of the state, according to Jennifer Eisner, a public information officer at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Eisner said the department is working with mental health agencies.
“We are aware that there are challenges in areas of the state recruiting and retaining psychiatrists. The use of tele-medicine in remote areas is increasing and helping to address these gaps.
“These issues are not unique to Michigan as many states are experiencing challenges recruiting and retaining psychiatrists,” she said.

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