Mayo to divert patients from inpatient behavioral health unit

Psychiatrist shortage causes Mayo Clinic to temporarily send behavioral health inpatients elsewhere

Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare will be temporarily diverting patients from its La Crosse inpatient behavioral health unit starting in mid-June.

Susan Halter, M.D., medical director of Behavioral Health Services said it’s because of a lack of psychiatry coverage. Patients may be sent to other health systems like Gundersen.

“Diversion means we would send someone outside the hospital system they’re at to receive care they need,” said Gundersen Health System’s Vice President of Clinical Operations Kelly Barton.

Mayo is not the only health system having a hard time finding psychiatric providers.

“It’s not only a challenging time for patients in our area, but it’s also a challenging time for behavioral health as a whole,” said Mayo spokesperson Rick Thiesse. “There is a shortage of psychiatrists in the nation.”

A 2014 report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Health Foundation showed only about 20 percent of mental health needs were being met in Wisconsin.

“Psychiatry is one of those things where they have an aging population for those providing the care. As they prepare to retire, we have the needs there,” said Rhonda Smith, a provider recruiter for Mayo Clinic. “I think more mental health issues are becoming prevalent. It’s talked about more, so people are needing more attention and more help, so I think it’s a lot of different pieces coming together into the perfect storm.”

Smith said along with new recruitment strategies for providers, Mayo is looking toward the future for a long-term solution.

“We’re also trying to work with what’s the future of mental health patients and the care they need,” she said. “How can we build for the future instead of being reactive to things? And what’s the future look like and how can we build it?”

Barton said Gundersen has been working to incorporate more mental health care into regular visits, and she wants to work on preventing a crisis before mental problems have a chance to begin.

“I think it’s really going to take some innovation and partnership and collaboration to meet the ever-growing demands, and we need and really thinking about this in a new and different way,” she said. “I think its partnering. How do you partner with different agencies in the community to address issues before they become a crisis? Before someone goes to the ER or needs to be hospitalized? And I think we can do that in La Crosse.”

Barton said those struggling with mental health issues have many places to turn.

“Seek help,” she said. “There’s lots of resources available in this community in terms of reaching out and finding out what those resources are.”

She suggested visiting Great Rivers 211 to find out what’s available in the community. 

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