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Wait lists linger for local mental health providers

A young girl looks out the window of her room in the pediatric unit of the Robert Debre hospital in Paris, France, on March 2, 2021. A year into the coronavirus pandemic, increasing numbers of children are coming apart at the seams, their mental health shredded by the traumas of deaths, sickness and job losses in their families, the disruptions of lockdowns and curfews, and a deluge of anxieties poisoning their fragile young minds.  (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)
A young girl looks out the window of her room in the pediatric unit of the Robert Debre hospital in Paris, France, on March 2, 2021. A year into the coronavirus pandemic, increasing numbers of children are coming apart at the seams, their mental health shredded by the traumas of deaths, sickness and job losses in their families, the disruptions of lockdowns and curfews, and a deluge of anxieties poisoning their fragile young minds. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

Health care leaders say one benefit a year into the pandemic is that more people are talking about mental health with less stigma.

Yet more work is needed on another front: access. Slammed since spring 2020, many licensed therapists aren’t taking new patients, or it’s a wait to get in.

Families seeking care need to be persistent with calls for an appointment or check in with a primary care physician for referrals, said Ellen Carruth, education chair with the Washington Mental Health Counselors Association.

Some larger practices have brought in more associate-level therapists who work under supervision to meet the higher demands, and virtual mental telehealth options are growing, she said.

The March 9 MultiCare’s Heart Strings for Hope concert, headlined by country star Tim McGraw, benefits its Inland Northwest Behavioral Health Network programs and services. The virtual concert with multiple artists raised more than $270,000 to be used in this region.

The funds will help in many ways, said Samantha Clark, who oversees Inland Northwest MultiCare behavioral health programs. For one, MultiCare wants to create a Deaconess Hospital mental health crisis stabilization unit.

“This unit would provide a safer, more relaxing therapeutic place of care for individuals who are experiencing mental health crises, suicide ideation and anxiety to meet with a social worker or therapist and give them a little bit more time to heal and recover,” Clark said. That’s as opposed to a more fast-paced emergency department space, she said.

“We’re also working on a retrofit or a remodel of part of the MultiCare Deaconess emergency department. We’re going to take a considerable portion of the ED, and we’re retrofitting or remodeling it to where it will be a much safer environment of care for individuals who are highly acute, either with behavioral health needs or suicide ideation.”

A standard ER room has “all kinds of sharp objects, medical equipment, cords, medical gasses,” all necessary for medical care, Clark said, “but all things that can be weaponized or used to harm somebody for behavioral health patients, so we’re committed to keeping our behavioral health patients safe and our staff safe.”

MultiCare also hopes to open another behavioral health clinic, currently considering on or near the Northeast Community Center campus.

Spokane residents have different agencies offering mental health services, including Frontier Behavioral Health, she said. All such providers are partners, she said, but this past year has made a wider need more apparent.

“Clearly throughout COVID, our community has come to us and told us that they need more,” Clark said. “It’s going to take what Frontier’s got, it’s going to take what MultiCare’s got, it’s going to take more growth from other organizations. There’s just so much demand for behavioral health that as we all grow, we can all meet demand and all work to improve access.”

“I do believe that one of the blessings or the silver linings of this last year is that now more than ever people are talking about mental health and acknowledging the field’s importance to an individual’s well-being.”

Carruth agrees. She does clinical supervision for associate-level counselors and teaches at the University of Puget Sound. Several actions now at the state level are aimed at increasing the number of people who work in the mental health field, she said.

She encourages families and individuals seeking a counselor to check on community resources. If they have private insurance, families can check on therapists regionally with an online search with Psychology Today and CounselingWashington.com.

Here are other community resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK

Frontier Behavioral Health, (509) 838-4651

Inland Northwest Behavioral Health, (509) 992-1888

MultiCare Rockwood Behavioral Health Center, (509) 342-3480

Providence RISE program, adolescents and adults, (509) 252-6446

Providence BEST program, children 8-12, (509) 474-2223

Kootenai Medical behavioral health services, (208) 625-4800

Clark thinks factors today include mental health issues from before the pandemic that got pushed to the surface, as well as multiple COVID-19-related experiences resulting in depression and anxiety.

“I do think that we are coming out of this as a community,” Clark said.

“There is hope, the sun is coming, and with the sun there are brighter, longer days, things are opening up, and the vaccines are out. I don’t think it’s going to go away overnight or that it will go away completely. There are still a lot of people affected in a very long-term way.”

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