While emergency rooms and intensive care units have been filled with the physically ill during the pandemic, mental health centers are equally overwhelmed.
About 400 new patients will enter CNS Healthcare's eight locations this month. That's up from an average of about 150 prior to the pandemic. And the community behavioral health clinic is managing these patients with 60 fewer workers than prior to the pandemic and more than 100 new positions that could be filled.
"We're seeing more and more people experiencing levels of crisis and anxiety," said Michael Garrett, president and CEO of CNS Healthcare. "There are a lot of different stressors going on in the world, from the pandemic to economic anxiety. This isolation and loneliness is the perfect storm on our mental health system."
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is reporting a 27 percent increase in the use of mental health services among its 4.3 million members.
The pandemic has illuminated the canyon of mental health needs across the country and, by default, the gulf of providers needed.
There are an estimated 50,000 vacant positions for direct care workers in the behavioral health sector across the state, about a 21 percent vacancy rate, according to data from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is seeking to bolster the industry with a proposal to repay up to $200,000 in student loan debt for those working in the nonprofit mental health sector.
"We should invest in our mental health workforce so we can expand access," Whitmer said during her Wednesday night State of the State address. "Nearly 40 percent of Michiganders do not get treatment for their mental illness. We will address this shortfall by expanding Michigan's Loan Repayment Program for mental health professionals. And we will make a historic investment to retain and recruit hundreds more mental health workers."
Robert Sheehan, executive director of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, said the large number supporting the program may help attract private practice therapists and counselors into the more critical nonprofit space.