More than three-quarters of Wisconsin counties face significant shortage of psychiatrists

More than three-quarters of Wisconsin counties have a significant shortage of psychiatrists and some areas don’t have any at all, according to a new study. That means adults in need of mental health services have to travel long distances or wait for months to receive care.

The study comes from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan research organization. Data shows that this problem is expected to grow as many practicing psychiatrists age out or retire, but area mental health experts said they are working to address the issue.

The study’s results weren’t surprising at all for Kayleigh Day, a community health educator for the Monroe County Health Department.

“We’ve known for quite a while that there’s been a lack of services,” Day said.

She’s been working with Monroe County health care providers, schools and law enforcement personnel to see which issues are affecting the community the most. Mental health has been a top priority for years.

“The concern was that, among youth, from our youth risk behavior survey, we were seeing increases in the number of students who felt hopeless, who had suicide ideation,” Day said.

It is estimated Monroe County has less than one provider per 30,000 residents, which means people are often left waiting for care.

“Especially with youth, people can’t get in to see a provider,” Day said.

Christine Feller said Mayo Clinic Health System is trying to alleviate this need.

“Our colleagues to the north in the Eau Claire are having resident rotations coming into their practices to introduce the future workforce to rural communities,” said Feller, operations administrator for Mayo Clinic Health System.

Mayo Clinic Health System said it’s also relying on its nurse practitioners to identify mental health needs within its more rural clinics. Its primary care providers have also stepped in to take on some of the demand for services. The provider is also embracing new technology to fill the gaps.

“What we do to help expand our services across those more rural communities is we provide telemedicine for our psychiatrists,” Feller said.

Reka Furedi is one of the psychiatrists testing this method of care. She works at the outpatient behavioral health clinic.

“Even the cost of traveling to and from an interview site to see a psychiatrist can be prohibitive for the patient,” Furedi said.

She’s hoping telemedicine eases the burden for some of her patients, especially ones from very rural areas with few options.

“We have patients here who travel up to an hour or two hours to and from their home just to come here for an appointment,” Furedi said.

There are some programs designed to improve rural and urban outreach. The Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine, through Gundersen Health System, aims to improve the number of medical providers in shortage areas.

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