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Labor shortage creates long waits for mental health services in Missouri

Mental health patients in Missouri are waiting months for services because of a staffing shortage, according to data from the state.

Within the Department of Mental Health’s division of behavioral health, about 35 percent of registered nurse positions are vacant, 57 percent of licensed practical nurses are vacant, 32 percent of entry-level psychiatric tech positions are vacant and 28 percent of entry-level security aide positions are vacant as well.

The department has slowed admissions to its adult psychiatric hospitals, and 41 beds have been taken offline across facilities “due to our inability to safely staff those locations,” said Nora Bock, the director of the department’s division of behavioral health..

Staffing shortages mean less available capacity and fewer patients being served. State-operated facilities for adults can serve individuals who have been committed by the courts, and without sufficient capacity, some have to remain in jails instead, and it’s a question of whether they’re getting any type of appropriate service, Bock said.

“Within our facilities as well, if you’re just trying to make it day by day, less treatment is occurring because people are just trying to cover minimums and make sure that people get their medications and get fed,” she said. “So it’s a negative consequence all the way around, and it’s a reality that happens in our inpatient settings as well as in our community settings.”

Last year, department-run facilities also saw COVID cases surge, causing staff to have to stay home and quarantine. But unions representing facility workers said at the time that enforcement policies were patchwork, and because of staff shortages were being required to work after testing positive for the virus if they weren’t showing symptoms.

New Biden administration rules will require healthcare workers whose facilities participate in Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4. Critics of the mandate have raised concerns that it will drive health care workers who already are in short supply out of the industry.

Estimates are that upwards of 40 percent of the nation’s health workers have chosen not to be vaccinated. Some healthcare systems, like MU, have created their own mandate creating a similar shortage.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice