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The need for psychiatrists

Published: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

A problem facing those in need of mental health services is finding a psychiatrist to visit.

Todd Schroll, the interim executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board, said the issue is with finding psychiatrists who will help the needy. There are about 30,000 to 40,000 people in the county without health insurance.

"There are many psychiatrists in the county; our problem is the number of psychiatrists that will take Medicaid and work with our unfunded population," Schroll said.

Dr. Chandra Vedak, of Horizons Behavioral Health, said the demanding hours of a psychiatrist can be a turnoff to younger people, who may want a better quality of life that doesn't require the late hours or weekends to meet with patients.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2011, 55 percent of psychiatrists were 55 years and older.

Vedak said older psychiatrists are used to working 60 to 80 hours a week, while younger generations "have a better sense of work-life balance, and they want to work shorter hours."

So for each senior psychiatrist who retires, there needs to be two psychiatrists to cover the services, Vedak said.

Brett Wisnauski, president of the McHenry County Mental Heath Board, said it's a national problem.

"There are residency programs that have not been filled, year after year, where nobody applies for them," Wisnauski said.

At Centegra, adding inpatient beds may not be possible because there still would need to be access to psychiatrists, said Dr. Sheila Senn, the vice president and site administrator of Centegra Hospital-Woodstock.

"We have two doctors that run our inpatient unit," Senn said. "They simply couldn't manage more patients."

Working at a hospital also means a more stressful environment, Senn said.

"What we hear is that many psychiatrists would prefer to see patients in their offices, and generally [patients] are more stable when they're at that point," Senn said. "We work in a hospital; it's a constant high level. It's intense."

With few psychiatrists, it also means that after a patient is discharged from Centegra, the patient may face a long wait wait before a follow-up occurs.

"The length of time to get them into the other services, other agencies, is not conducive to the patient needs," Senn said. "It could be several weeks to get into an after-care appointment."

Senn said the best care would be for patients to get a follow-up appointment within 10 days after being discharged from the hospital.

"When you think about being in this level of care… it's very structured, very intense," Senn said. "Going from that, you can't go back into your regular home environment and wait for six weeks."

Physicians at Centegra sometimes will see patients after they have been discharged, before the patients can meet with their next agency.

"They might continue to see this doctor twice before they get in over there, or they end up back in hospital," Senn said.

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