A statewide shortage of psychiatrists working in county government is hitting home in Door County, where the county board allocated $30,000 to help recruit someone to the post that has been vacant for more than a year.
A new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) found that 55 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have a “significant shortage” of psychiatrists and 20 counties have no psychiatrists at all.
Since posting the position more than one year ago, Door County has not received a single application. The county is currently sharing a psychiatrist with Kewaunee County, but county administrator Ken Pabich said the caseload is growing to the point where a single psychiatrist is insufficient.
“Right now we’re kind of seeing the need across the board, being able to see patients both from the children’s standpoint to the senior population, so it’s a wide gamut,” Pabich said.
County psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental health disorders, prescribe medication, and play an important role in the behavioral health care delivery system at the county level.
WPF found that 54 percent of those in need of mental health disorder services do not receive any. That treatment gap jumps to 77 percent for those struggling with addiction.
According to the report, “The dearth of psychiatrists in these areas, along with the high prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse in the state, likely contribute to a gap in which more than half of Wisconsin adults in need of services for a mental health disorder go without care.”
Providing these services can save billions in the long run. The report found substance abuse and addiction in Wisconsin costs $6.8 billion annually and an additional $1.8 billion for some mental health disorders. Those costs are related to treatment and medication, criminal justice, capital costs for mental health facilities, and lost productivity.
A 2017 report from the American Psychiatric Association found that 77 percent of counties in the United States are “underserved.” That shortage is only expected to rise as the baby boomer generation ages and is in greater need of services.
Pabich said qualified psychiatrists have eight to 10 job offers to choose from. The salary range for past psychiatrists in Door County has been between $160,000 to $190,000.
State law requires counties to provide an adequate level of psychiatric care. While the state won’t crack down on every county that is actively recruiting but struggling to fill the post, Door County hopes the extra support for recruitment will drive some applications to the door.