“It’s a big issue throughout the county,” said Elizabethtown Community Hospital (ECH) representative Jane Hooper. “Our emergency room is seeing increases in patients who need that type of care and it’s very challenging for our staff.”
Ultimately, according to ECH medical director Dr. Rob DeMuro, these patients require counseling and services from a medical professional skilled in that particular specialty.
“Physicians are always there to assist; but patients really require specialty care, something in addition to what their general practitioner can provide.”
The average number of people actively receiving treatment from the Essex County Mental Health Department at any given time is about 450, or about 1.2 percent of the county’s population.
Valley’s office treated more than 1,300 people in 2013, most of whom were seen in three visits or less.
The department’s staff includes 10 masters-level counselors, two care managers, two supervising clinicians, an assistant director and the director.
The psychiatrist shortage has been a longstanding issue nationwide.
While the U.S. population grew 4.7 percent between 2005 and 2010, the number of psychiatrists shrunk slightly from 38,578 to 38,289, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
According to a report issued last year by the US Department of Health and Human Services, almost 91 million adults lived in areas where shortages of mental health professionals made obtaining treatment difficult.
A report to Congress later that year said 55 percent of the nation’s 3,100 counties have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers, the result of a perfect storm of budget cuts, doctors leaving the profession and a lack of young med school graduates eager to enter the field.
The reason for the shortages fall under three main hypotheses, said Dr. Kevin M. Antshel, Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at Syracuse University.
The first, he said, is because psychiatry generally isn’t a popular medical profession.