Kansas mental health facilities strained by workforce shortages

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – As the demand for mental health resources increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, providers are facing stressful situations as they try to meet the needs of a growing number of patients while facing workforce shortages.

Last week, Robyn Chadwick, President of Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph told Kansas lawmakers what hospital staff are going through and how the state can help.

The place with the most pronounced challenges is within the emergency in St. Many behavioral health patients come to the emergency room in addition to those who need medical attention.

Chadwick said overcrowding in the ER is a prominent reason why hospital staff are dealing with incidents of violence.

“Will I be the recipient of a kick, a punch or a punch or will I watch one of my colleagues get hurt today?” Chadwick said.

ER at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph has 29 beds.

“Over the past several years, the volume has increased so significantly that we now need 49 rooms to be able to provide safe care,” Chadwick said.

Across the healthcare industry, mental health providers are facing some of the most pronounced workforce shortages seen in the healthcare industry.

“We see about 600 patients a month come to the St. John’s emergency room. Joe for a mental health crisis. That really taxes our staff and pushes us for space,” Chadwick said.

Chadwick said she is waiting to hear back from the state after requesting $22 million in ARPA funds to expand the ER at St. Joseph to 49 rooms to better care for medical and behavioral health patients.

“More space and not patients and staff piled on top of each other; it will really help with incidents of violence,” she said.

While the ER is the front line for mental health care, it is not the last place to see the growing need for mental health. St. Joseph’s has 101 inpatient beds, most reserved for adults. Chadwick said they are operating at 95% capacity.

“It’s not at all unusual in our emergency department to have 10 to 20 other patients who are here for a behavioral health crisis waiting to be admitted to our inpatient unit,” she said.

Chadwick said a state psychiatric hospital built in Sedgwick County would be one of the best ways to help with the growing demand for mental health care and serve patients who need a higher level of care. .

“Having those 11 to 12 patients a month who might qualify for state care is just another factor that contributes to overcrowding in both our ER and high utilization of our hospital beds,” she said.

The state budget this year included partial funding for a 50-bed psychiatric hospital in Sedgwick County. Chadwick said providers also need help from state lawmakers to address some of the workforce needs to make sure the necessary staff are there to run the facility.

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