Patients in Chicago who need mental health counseling can wait a year or more before they see a specialist, according to Joanne May, director of behavioral health services at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.
That's why Advocate Health Care, the state's largest healthcare system, recently began embedding behavioral health specialists in its primary-care practices. The system's flagship hospital also offers a walk-in mental health clinic six days a week for patients in crisis. Care is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Patients are getting same-day assessment and treatment.
“When people are in crisis, they might not be able to wait for an appointment that is two months down the road or even 14 months down the road,” May said.
But Advocate, which like most systems across the country is grappling with huge unmet mental health needs among its clientele, has run into a major stumbling block. There aren't enough psychiatrists and counselors to meet the burgeoning demand for services.
The shortage is projected to grow acute over the next decade, according to a recent analysis by HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration. The nation needs to add 10,000 providers to each of seven separate mental healthcare professions by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand.
The widening gap between demand and the supply of available behavioral healthcare providers is being driven by a greater emphasis on addressing mental health issues within primary-care settings. While the fate of plans sold under the Affordable Care Act—which must include mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of the 10 essential benefits—is up in the air, the final rules for the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which covers all plans, established the same deductibles, copayments and limits on visits for mental health as offered for medical and surgical services.