News Column

Mental Health Care Providers Bracing for Increase in Patients

Feb 14, 2013

Tina Reed, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

Just getting mental health patients to seek care when they need it is a problem in Anne Arundel County, professionals in the field said this week.

And an expected influx of such patients will makes matters more challenging, they said.

Thousands in Maryland will gain better access to care in 2014 due to the federal Affordable Care Act -- often called "Obamacare" -- and emerging mental health parity rules, said Frank Sullivan, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency Inc.

"That's the good news," Sullivan said.

But this could further strain the mental health provider network, officials said.

"As we get access to care they need with the Affordable Care Act in 2014, who is going to treat them?" said Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting health officer for the Anne Arundel County Health Department. "Do we have the workforce?"

The answer is no, the experts said.

"When it comes to psychiatrist appointments or child psychiatrists, that is part of a national problem. There is a shortage," said Brian Hepburn, executive director for the state's Mental Hygiene Administration. "To see another mental health professional, there isn't that much of a wait."

But Sullivan said he knows local patients who are waiting eight to 12 weeks to see a psychiatrist.

Gaps in care -- such as when someone who has been incarcerated has a lapse in Medicaid coverage upon release -- can lead to costly and complicated mental health troubles, officials said.

Another major problem, those officials said, is the lack of crisis beds where patients can receive round-the-clock care if needed.

Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie has 14 inpatient psychiatric beds, and those are the only inpatient mental health beds in the county, said Dr. Steven Daviss, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at BWMC.

The hospital realized it had to offer services to ensure that recently discharged patients are meeting with a counselor within a week. Some, Daviss said, had been waiting weeks for an appointment.

"If someone attempts suicide, is discharged and can't get an appointment for six weeks, that's not smart," he said.

Chan said she plans to regularly work with mental health officials to find solutions to their funding troubles.

For example, Chan said, some groups are pushing for mental health first aid training, particularly in the schools.

"I see the tenor of the conversation changing. People are opening up more, talking about mental illness in their families or their own mental illness," Chan said. "Ultimately that gets people into services."

The question remains whether there will be enough providers to handle them once they get there.

Source: (c)2013 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters