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Community members address gap in Central Texas mental health services

Posted at 6:21 PM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-17 14:22:36-04

KILLEEN, TX — According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year.

Experts say when it comes to mental health services in the Central Texas area, there is a big gap to fill.

On an average day, the team at AdventHealth Behavioral Health Services sees 10 patients in the Emergency Department. In addition, they receive a minimum of 70 referrals to bring patients into their outpatient care.

“From either an emergency department setting and/or an impatient setting, they require services in order to continue medication. That is a key component," said Ross Gaetano, Director for AdventHealth Behavioral Health Services.

However, once patients leave, receiving those services can be difficult.

"Because what you will see in this area is there are wait times that can be months on end," said Gaetano.

We called around to at least a dozen mental health providers in the Central Texas area. The shortest wait time to see a psychiatrist? About two weeks. And the longest? Up to a year.

"They need to have therapeutic intervention once they leave here. What happens is without those services, they end up coming back to the emergency departments, coming back to the behavioral health facility," said Gaetano.

We spoke to a woman in Bell County who battles major depressive disorder, and although she was unavailable to meet in person, she had this to say over the phone.

"In my case, I had a regular psychiatrist, but my insurance changed and I didn't know it. So, I had a change in PCP [primary care physician]. It took me three months to get in to see him and an additional six weeks to get in to see the psychiatrist," she explained.

She said she has seen firsthand the impact lack of care can have.

"I have a friend of mine, for example, it took three months. The doctors just kept pushing out her appointment. Pushing and pushing it and for three months, she went without medication, and the end result is that she took her own life," she added.

"You see that gap of people who do commit suicide because of lack of services in the community,” said Gaetano. “We discharge somebody from here and we are looking at a month to six weeks to three month appointment to get them in to see somebody in an outpatient services. They decompensate during that point in time. This is the type of situation that can happen."

Even with the gap in resources, he shared there is still hope.

"We're bringing on clinical social workers to do therapy. We're bringing on nurse practitioners to assist with the medication management and the therapies. We’re bringing on psychiatrists,” said Gaetano.

And they say if you haven't found help yet, they recommend you do two things. One, talk about it, and two, seek help.