How New Mexico is addressing psychiatrist shortage during pandemic

Providing psychiatric care is a critical component of communities, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic  takes a toll on Americans' mental health

In New Mexico's McKinley County and the county seat, Gallup, such access is more difficult because there is only one psychiatrist and limited telemedicine capacity serving the area.

However, the New Mexico Human Services Department is looking to address the shortage of psychiatric providers through a $1 million grant to develop a new graduate medical education program.

The funds will be used to build a psychiatric residency program at three hospitals in New Mexico, including Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services, an integrated health system in Gallup.

"What we're doing now is recruiting physicians from outside the area, and we may get people from back East or the South, and they may not have an affinity for this area [and leave]," David Conejo, CEO of Rehoboth McKinley, which operates a hospital in Gallup, said in a recent interview with Becker's. "But we thought if we could get people coming from this region — it could be from Colorado or our own state or Arizona — then we would have a better chance of retaining them."

Rehoboth McKinley has received $390,165 of the $1 million state grant for a three-year initiative to develop a psychiatric care program. The Gallup hospital will use its portion of the funds to add three physicians annually to fill 12 new residency positions created by New Mexico's graduate medical education program.

Mr. Conejo said the Rehoboth McKinley psychiatric care program will focus on recruiting medical students interested in practicing psychiatry in rural areas, and physicians in the program will focus on addressing the region's Native American behavioral health needs. They will spend two years in psychiatric training in a major metropolitan area and then spend two years at Rehoboth McKinley.

The psychiatric training will address regional issues, such as social determinants of mental health and trauma-informed care, as well as responding to psychiatric disorders, depression, alcohol and substance use disorders.

"When a pandemic hits like COVID-19, the immediate response is the physical well-being of the patient. However, the psychological toll a pandemic can take must also be treated. When you add the fact that Gallup and McKinley County have a high level of substance abuse cases, we believe a psychiatric care program is very much in need," Mr. Conejo said in a news release. 

The Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine in Las Cruces, N.M., also received funding from the $1 million state grant for the Southern New Mexico Family Medicine program to add four physicians annually, and Memorial Medical Center of Las Cruces will create a general psychiatry program that will add three residents annually.

Mr. Conejo said the overall goal is to have 16 physicians, including the three additional physicians provided by the state grant, rotating in Gallup each year and to retain about 12 of those physicians permanently. The psychiatric care program is expected to begin next year.

 

More articles on integration and physician issues:
New Jersey to allow physicians with foreign licenses to practice during pandemic
NYU Langone residents, leaders butt heads over hazard pay request
South Carolina med school asks students to sign COVID-19 liability waiver

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