Mental Health: Frederick County mental health care in 'near crisis conditions,' report says

The lack of mental health care providers is creating waiting lists and “near crisis conditions” in Frederick County, according to local experts and a county report.

The Frederick County Health Department released its 2016 Community Health Assessment on Friday. The report updates the county’s health demographics with input from a paper survey, focus groups, and Frederick Memorial Hospital’s partnership with health data analysts at George Washington University.

In the report, Frederick Memorial Hospital describes “near crisis conditions” in local mental health care due to a lack of providers and because of high demand.

Andrea Walker, director of the Frederick County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Services Division, said national trends are shaping Frederick County’s health care demand.

There is a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, according to Walker, and organizations that provide mental health services are struggling to recruit them.

Shannon Aleshire, chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of Frederick County, said her organization is seeing that firsthand.

The association wants to create an outpatient mental health clinic, which will employ one psychiatrist.

“We have been advertising since December, and only got one résumé,” she said.

At the same time, more Americans have access to mental health care because of the Affordable Care Act, Walker said. A shortage of psychiatrists can mean delayed care.

“We have clients that are literally on waiting lists for months to see a psychiatrist,” she said.

But Aleshire doesn’t agree with the hospital’s characterization of the mental health care climate in Frederick County.

“It’s hard to just generalize and say there’s a lack of mental health care,” Aleshire said. “In general, we have enough therapists. We definitely have a need for psychiatrists, though, especially those who work with children and adolescents.”

In the report, Frederick Memorial Hospital suggested adding more inpatient beds, though it would need to wait for state approval and possibly county funding.

In partnership with the hospital, the Mental Health Association of Frederick County started a walk-in behavioral health service about two years ago.

The county health department has placed a “peer recovery support specialist” at the hospital to meet with patients who are at risk for substance abuse disorders. The specialist meets with patients before they are discharged and helps coordinate their next steps, whether they might need housing placement, a self-help group or outpatient treatment.

According to Walker, since last summer, 402 patients have been referred to the specialist.

“The peer [specialist] currently assigned to this pilot program works full time during traditional business hours. However, we know the need exists after hours and on the weekends. It would be great to see these services expanded,” Walker wrote in an email.

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