Maldistribution and Shortage of Psychiatrists and Child Psychiatrists

This is a reprise of a recent post on my other site “Pen and Psychiatrist.” I apologize to the the reader if you have already read this topic at the other site which deals in more cultural and social issues. But after I posted that entry not too long ago, I realized it more properly belonged on this site, since it deals with one aspect of the mental health reform puzzle in this country.

In my previous life some two decades ago as a young Turk clinical teaching and supervising faculty of psychiatric and child psychiatric residents and fellows in training at Duke Medical Center, I became interested in “manpower” (the vernacular then) or more properly speaking practitioner distribution and training issues of psychiatrists. This was in the so called Golden Age of mental health practice, even though the service delivery system in all disciplines, had serious issues, I and many many others could see the troublesome issue of maldistribution of mental health care professionals that was emerging three decades ago and worsening  year by year. Basically what was evolving was a situation in which desirable places to live, urban areas with urban amenities such as the symphonies, ballet and performing arts companies, university centers, and above all many colleagues around for support and lively continuing education meetings of regional psychology, social work and psychiatry societies, kept graduates of advanced training programs in the regions in which they trained. So over time, it evolved that areas like Boston/Cambridge MA, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill NC (the Triangle Area), Ann Arbor MI, Dartmouth, New York City especially Manhattan, Stony Brooke, Long Island, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Eugene OR, San Diego, Davis CA, Charleston SC, Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, Albuquerque, Tucson AZ, and many other urban areas became the landing places where psychiatrists trained and often stayed to practice, in the university medical center cities. A good friend and colleague, now passed on Bruce Neeley MD of Duke and Emery, used to give lectures to residents nearing the penultimate stages of their training careers and were a year away from the decision of where to settle to practice. By then the 1980’s the trend had become set in concrete, only a minority of graduating psychiatrists left the training centers and set up practice in under-served areas.

Bruce Neeley and I separately in turn would give almost off the records seminars to the ‘senior residents,’ telling them in so many words, almost like the famous newspaper editor of the 1800’s, “Go West Young Psychiatrist,” In North Carolina we first meant go literally to western North Carolina which I knew very well because of my wife’s origin from Cherokee NC. But we also meant “get out of the urban centers, there are too many of us here already.”

WNC then and sadly still is vastly under-served by psychiatry with a chronic shortage that is almost criminal. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of child psychiatrists in practice west of Asheville and that is a lot of territory. I used to tell senior residents to “Get out of the RTP [Research Triangle Park, another term used to denote the entire Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area since each of those cities incredibly are only 8 to 15 miles from each other!

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Closing State Psychiatric HosptalAs: Consequences, Good and Not So Good

As usual I always bow to my internal ethics and try to be as open and transparent as possible about the subject at hand, revealing attitudes, biases, views based on long term experience, and an almost “historical view” of the galloping phenomenon of “mental health care delivery reform” thankfully occupying the attention of the country finally. I am old enough to have practiced in the so called mental health age of oodles of resources, and have watched them atrophy, became extinct, go corrupt and get themselves prosecuted out of existence, lose funding for many many understandable reasons, lose their place of importance, watch the ever decreasing number of bright talented younger generations of “would have been social workers, psychiatrists, and psychologists” shy away from the training programs, and our numbers go down especially in child psychiatry. One could take an  inflammatory demagogic view and see is as necessary to prevent th abuse and horrors that indeed happened for decades shuttered away out of the light of public review and knowledge and responsible accountability and oversight. But that approach has nearly led to the old saw of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater because something was wrong with the bathwater, too dirty, too hot, whatever. I have seen the inhumane past and still in more restricted corners, inhumane treatment of patients in poorly run state hospitals that made me so mad I thought i would bomb them into the ground they were so bad, but of course after evacuating the helpless patients. I have helped to de-accredite the abominations of such hospitals, a few but enough to see first hand the decades old cultures of isolated facilities with poor faculty, psychiatrists who could work no where else due to histories of alcoholism, just plain bad practitioners and all the rest. I have had close colleagues since my residency days who presided  over the deserved federally mandated dismantling of closure of famous hellholes permitted to exist far too long and heard their stories of generations of horror stories.

But in the midst of all this, or in my case in the last quarter of my career, I still know and hold to the somewhat unpopular certitude that state psychiatric hospitals are needed, good ones and now more than every. One simply statistic is that out country’s population and mental health treatment burden has at least doubled if now tripled since World War II. And we have had new mental health phenomenon syndromes, traumatic brain injuries of unforeseen overwhelming magnitude outstripping the abilities of public and private psychiatric-neurological treatment worlds to receive, treat and comprehensively help them out of our IED head rattling new genre of injuries in the Middle Eastern conflicts we have had to enter, police and try to stabilize at little thanks from much of the rest of the concerned world with some exceptions.

State hospitals across the country have been marked for closure and destructions for decades with the trend accelerating greatly in the last 2o years or so. It was thought and expected the the monies saved from funding these “dinosaurs” would be responsibly shifted to the long known need for massive outpatient services for the CMI, chronically mentally ill for which the state hospitals had long existed and served, and served well in a surprising high number of hospitals. Remember the famous Meninnger family of three generations of nationally recognized humane psychiatrists practiced in a state public hospital, Topeka State in Kansas a venerable training and research facility itself.

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