Patients waiting months for certain mental health services

Waitlist for appointment with provider who can prescribe medications hundreds deep at Gundersen

Mayo to divert patients from inpatient behavioral health unitRight now, the waitlist for someone with mental health issues to be seen by a provider who can prescribe medications is hundreds deep at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, and many people are waiting months to get an appointment.

It’s not just a Gundersen or local problem, but one seen nationwide.

“There’s not as many people coming into psychiatry, so there’s a bit of a shortage of prescribers,” Erik Sievers, clinical manager of outpatient behavioral health services, said. “There’s a lot more education and information, so a lot more people are looking for help.”

The Behavioral Health Clinic at Gundersen has hundreds of people on the waitlist to get in to see a prescriber, and it can take a while to be seen.

“It’s anywhere, honestly, from a few months to nine months,” Sievers said.

According to Sievers, there’s no waitlist for just therapy appointments, and the health system is working to integrate psychologists and therapists into primary care visits.

“Part of their day is available to consult with the primary care provider about a patient either they’re seen that day or saw recently,” he said.

For those who aren’t able to get in at a clinic, there are other resources in the neighborhood, like the Teen Center at the La Crosse YMCA.

YMCA Mental Health Director Sarah Johnson said at the center, talking about mental health is not just OK, but encouraged.

“If there’s something that’s not right for you, talk about it. And the earlier you can catch it, the better,” she said. “Therapy can be a really helpful and valuable thing. Outside therapy, there’s lots of things we can do to strengthen how we feel and strengthen mental health.”

Johnson said being a part of a community, staying physically active, properly fueling your body and just talking about how you’re feeling can make a big difference in mental health.

She said she tries to refer visitors to the help best suited for their needs.

“If somebody isn’t even really sure what they need — Do they need a therapist referral? Could they get their needs met in some other way, through the Y or the community? — I’m happy to throw ideas around with them and help connect them,” Johnson said.

The Teen Center is free and open to those in eighth to 12th grade.

For all ages, there are many community resources as well, including Great Rivers 211 and La Crosse County’s outpatient services.

Mayo Clinic Health System’s inpatient behavioral health unit hasn’t been accepting new patients since June due to the psychiatrist shortage, but its outpatient services are still available.