Some Union County residents have mental health problems and local providers are struggling to keep up.
Philip Adkins, executive director for the Union County Mental Health and Recovery Board (MHRB), said the county doesn’t have enough mental health providers to meet demand. That makes the marketplace for health professionals’ competitive right now.
“In 30 years of behavioral health, I haven’t seen anything quite like this,” Adkins said.
Victor Trianfo, the chief medical officer at Memorial Health, agreed, and said Memorial has seen trouble finding psychiatric practitioners.
“There’s a general dearth of psychiatric practitioners in the country overall,” he said. “And finding the right match for a community is important.”
He said this shortage has been going on “for a number of years.” According to Trianfo, the mental health profession has a high burnout rate. He also said years ago, international medical graduates tended to pursue psychiatry as an entry into the U.S. medical system. They then transferred to other areas of expertise.
Holly Zweizig, prevention coordinator at the MHRB, said Marysville is growing constantly. Since about 20 percent of that number will need some sort of mental health service, it’s hard to keep up.
“The good news is we’re also close by Franklin County, which has additional resources there,” she said.
Ohio mental health department has recently launched programming to develop mental health development. These programs are focusing largely on education of these professionals.
Adkins said areas that are particularly rural can be designated Health Professional Shortage Areas (HBSA). Areas with that label are eligible to receive federal loans and other help.
Since Union County is next to Franklin County, it’s unable to get that designation.
“We don’t quite have that option,” he said.
Trianfo said they average about 500 outpatient mental health visits per year. He said that’s spread across a wide range of problems. Half of that number has suicidal thoughts, and other issues include anxiety and depression, hallucination, violent behavior and others.
Melanie Ziegler, the hospital’s vice president of community engagement, said those 500 don’t include substance abuse, which by themselves number from about 200 to 225 per year.
Trianfo noted that in any patient, the hospital tries addressing the person’s entire health. One person’s anxiety or depression might be more or less severe, and they try to tailor care to that person.
Often, people don’t need to regularly see a therapist. Even so, Memorial is struggling to keep up with that need.
“There is a need in the community for additional psychiatric providers,” he said.
Memorial is trying to fill those roles through recruitment, working with governmental and non-profit organizations to increase care.
“There’s no doubt that these services are needed,” he said. “And we try to meet that need.”
Anyone who comes in with a problem will receive a generalized exam that takes stock of his or her health. If the results point to a mental health problem, the hospital goes from there. If the problem is severe enough, the person is referred to another organization like Maryhaven.
The Journal-Tribune contacted Maryhaven, but was unable to get a comment by press time.
For Adkins, part of the solution is getting better at leveraging technology. For past communities in which Adkins has worked, professionals sometimes used systems allowing online medical care where a doctor can provide remote checkups and diagnoses, which he said was successful.
Adkins stressed the need to hire competitively, though to do that they’ll need more resources. The board will have a levy on the ballot this November to up the amount of funding available to them. Atkins said the last time the county’s mental health levy was increased was in 1977.
“Marysville was very different in 1977,” he said.
The levy right now is for .5 mil, and the update will hopefully increase it by .3.
“We do have quite a lot of expenditure on the mental health side,” he said.
Opiate treatment is the most expensive diagnoses the board sees, and that has stretched their resources “beyond” capacity.
“We’ve been trying to make do with resources from 30 years ago,” he said. “We really have to ask the public for support, and I think there’s been a really good response to that.”
Adkins has also focused on providing access to mental healthcare to children. He said if a problem can be caught early, there’s a much better chance of improvement during treatment.
“We want to make sure we have everything we need locally in terms of intensive services for kids,” he said.
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