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State faces mental health worker shortage

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POSTED: January 19, 2008 5:02 a.m.
With Georgia’s healthcare industry currently facing a shortage of mental health professionals, members of the state House Mental Health Professionals Study Committee recently met with local health officials to get an idea of how the shortfall is affecting Liberty County.
And while the shortage has affected area healthcare workers’ ability to provide mental health services to residents across the board, military families are quickly becoming the group most impacted by the lack of providers.
“As of recently, we have been inundated with military dependents,” Fraser Counseling Center Executive Director Dr. Alan Baroody told committee members. “In 2006, for example, we serviced approximately 164 military families.”
According to Baroody, the spike in dependent patients can be attributed to the multiple deployments the 3rd Infantry Division has endured over the last five years.
He explained since the first round of deployments in 2003, study by counselors at the Fraser Center has found a correlation between the increase in dependents seeking mental health care and the number and lengths of the continual deployments.
“Research shows that during the first of the deployment cycles, military families were a little less functional, but by the sixth or seventh month, the resiliency factor was up and they were doing quite well,” Baroody said, noting the stress deployments place on families. “But now, the families are just wearing out.”
The military’s method of handling the health care needs of dependents during deployments and its own shortage of healthcare providers during these periods, he added, leaves already limited local mental health services responsible for picking up the load.
“What happens when (soldiers) are in the midst of deployments, their dependents are no longer seen on post,” Baroody said. “Their dependents, the families, are all referred off post and we have to try to absorb them within the community.”
State Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) questioned why non-deployed military health professionals from other bases could not be temporarily transferred to Fort Stewart to care for families on post.
“Somebody’s got professionals somewhere in the system...why aren’t they replacing (deployed professionals) to help the dependents that are left here?” he asked. “That puzzles me because the dependents seem to be left in the lurch.”
Maj. Frederick Davidson Chief of Army Public Health Nursing for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield responded 3rd ID officials have made requests for replacement medical workers, but the decision to grant or deny those requests “is above our level.”
And Baroody, offering another reason for the gap, said military and local health officials have never dealt with the current level of troop deployments and their affects on family members.
“(Military and civilian healthcare providers) are simply in some uncharted waters with the engagements we’re in,” he said, pointing out many military families have dealt with at least two deployments since the start of the Iraq War. “We’re in some uncharted waters...and the families are suffering emotionally.”
 

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