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The Times
  • Mental health treatment concerns arise locally

  • The Mohawk Valley is not blessed with an abundance of mental health therapists.

    Psychiatrists, in particular, are in short supply for everyone.

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  • Need mental health counseling? Usually not a problem for those with private insurance coverage. The rest of you may have to wait a bit.
    The Mohawk Valley is not blessed with an abundance of mental health therapists. Psychiatrists, in particular, are in short supply for everyone.
    Those who can afford private counseling – or have insurance that covers it – don’t have a problem, said Greg Kovacs, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Utica.
    “Those individuals who may not have access to those resources don’t have access to the most immediate appointments, and they tend to wait weeks or months to get an appointment, and by then, the emotional effects have compounded,” said Kovacs, the former executive director of the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Mohawk Valley.
    Kovacs is offering a free counseling session to people affected by the Herkimer County shootings.
    “My concern is that those people who need mental health services aren’t able to obtain it quickly enough to minimize the emotional effects of the crisis,” he said.
    The federal government has designated both Oneida and Herkimer counties as Healthcare Professional Shortage Areas for mental health, meaning the area doesn’t have enough psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and other licensed therapists to meet the community’s projected mental health needs.
    “There’s a tremendous need in our community. There’s no question about it,” said Janine Carzo, executive director of the Utica Community Health Center. “And ironically, it seems we’re seeing more of it.”
    Carzo speculated that some of the added demand may come from the poor economy and increased financial stress.
    But those in the field say the situation is challenging, not dire, with most patients getting care in the end.
    “A real issue in our community is waiting lists for mental health services,” said Stuart Joseph, clinical services director for the Center for Family Life and Recovery. “There really has been a focus to identify who’s at the greatest risk, who has the greatest need and how to provide the most benefit to our community with the resources we do have available.”
    Strategies for maximizing those resources include working with regional graduate schools to make it easier for students to earn counseling degrees, offering more group therapy sessions, and providing supportive services that don’t require a license for the lowest-risk patients, Joseph said.
    The psychiatrist shortage is particularly problematic for certified mental health programs, where the number of patients they can accept is limited by the number of psychiatrists or psychiatric nurse practitioners on staff, said Ed Scudder, director of the Herkimer County Office of Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Services.
    Finding a private practice therapist is less difficult for those covered by private health insurance or with the means to pay. Tom Wildenger, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Utica, said he wasn’t aware of any shortages.
    Page 2 of 2 - “That having been said, we are very busy,” he said. “We’ve got four full-time therapists and five or six part-time therapists and everybody is packed.”

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