“Our system is at a breaking point.”: RI Mental Health Experts Reveal Alarming Data
A study by the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island revealed 67% of mental health care providers are too overwhelmed to accept new patients.
PROVIDENCE, RI (WLNE) –
A new study conducted by the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island collected data from 749 mental health professionals including psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, behavioral health nurse practitioners and others to reveal root causes to what experts are calling a “breaking point” within the mental health care system.
The study, released on Thursday afternoon, cited a range of barriers faced by those seeking access to mental health coverage nationwide that included “cultural stigmatization of mental health struggles, insufficient or opaque insurance coverage, to a workforce whose experience and training do not align with the demographic, cultural or linguistic needs of childhood and adolescent care.”
Laurie-Marie Pisciotta, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island says while there are multiple reasons for the current state of the mental healthcare landscape in the Ocean State, 67% of providers not accepting new patients are turning people away due to a lack of resources. “Because of the state’s chronic under-investment in our system, we’re seeing massive staffing shortages across all kinds of health and human service agencies. The most critical step that the state of Rhode Island can take right now is to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates to medical health professionals and to require the same of commercial insurers.”
Dr. Ernestine Jennings, Staff Psychologist and Senior Research Scientist at The Miriam Hospital, says the consequence of turning away a potential patient in need of mental health care can result in a strain on other aspects of the healthcare industry including overwhelming emergency rooms and psychiatric facilities. “They don’t go for care, and then it gets worse. Then it gets maybe elevated to the point where they end up presented to the emergency room.”
This is the exact situation Jeremiah Rainville, a Peer Counselor at National Alliance for Mental Illness of Rhode Island, says he found himself in several years ago. After being unable to access mental health care for a long period of time, he suffered a mental health crisis that required spending five days in Butler Hospital. While there he was able to access quality treatment, following his release he met yet another barrier in his road to recovery: a large bill that only added to his anxiety, despite having what he felt was good insurance. This, he said, made him feel as if he was being penalized for needing access to quality treatment and struggles to imagine what the cost would look like for those without coverage. “It’s not a crime, and they shouldn’t have to worry when they get out of the hospital with a big bill.”
Years later, Rainville recalled feeling as if he’d made progress in his mental health journey through a psychiatrist he felt he connected with – only to face another common obstacle. “A couple of years later, my insurance wouldn’t cover that doctor,” he explains. Despite hoping to continue his treatment, Rainville learned a new insurance provider policy made this unaffordable and began the search for an in-network professional. Doing so proved more difficult than he anticipated.
“The waitlists are really long. One place I called said there was a three month waiting list, and one place I called said they had a hundred people on the waiting list.”
This is a story not uncommon to healthcare experts we spoke to, and are just a piece to the puzzle in solving an evolving mental health crisis. Other barriers for those with specific needs can include finding a mental health professional that can speak a certain language, relate to issues faced by members of the LGBTQ community, affordability and transportation for those living in low income communities, or the ability to relate to those from a specific heritage/background.
According to Rainville, the consequence of ignoring these gaps of need can eventually trickle down to impact not only the individual and their immediate family, but can have a detrimental impact on society as a whole. “If we don’t address mental health, then physical health problems will happen, substance abuse problems will happen, homelessness with happen, incarceration, upsetting situations with police..because people aren’t getting quality mental health care.”