The Borough of Haines sent a letter requesting immediate behavioral health support to Bartlett Hospital in Juneau, citing weeks of waiting for services from its SEARHC-run clinic. As Corinne Smith of KHNS reports, Haines has sought and maintained behavioral health services since the deadly storms of last December, but more Bartlett clinicians could offer to help.
The mayor of Haines Doug Olerud wrote in a August 18 letter to Bartlett Hospital in Juneau that there are community members in crisis and have asked for behavioral health support and immediate help.
At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Olerud said the borough had heard that some residents were waiting up to two months for an appointment at the SEARHC clinic.
“There have been a lot of comments about the lack of behavioral health support in Haines,” the mayor said. “Our SEARHC clinic now has only one clinician out of the previous three. And folks are, we hear a lot of stories five to eight weeks before a first date.
SEARHC responded by e-mail and quoted QUOTE “a Longer-term workforce problem that the COVID pandemic has magnified dramatically. ” Vice President of Behavioral Health, Eric Gettis said SEARHC is actively seeking to hire and fill these two vacancies and expand telehealth staff, including working in partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to provide some relief.
In the letter, Mayor Olerud said that due to persistent problems with the deadly December storms as well as the continuing threat of COVID, many residents are struggling to access necessary professionals.
He says the borough is negotiating with Bartlett Hospital, which could offer its services to Haines either in person in Haines for a week each month, and provide care remotely or via video conference.
“They have a lot of people who responded here in December in January, and they have a very deep affection for the community and some of the connections that they have made. And they wanted to help us as much as possible, ”Olerud said.
Bartlett Hospital Behavioral Health Officer Bradley Grigg during a visit to Haines agreed that there was a possibility that Juneau Hospital could offer services here.
“So we spent four weeks here this winter and have developed very strong relationships, not only in the community but specifically in the schools, and in the lives of first responders and those who have been touched by what has happened. “said Grigg.
He said providing behavioral health services would be an expansion of continuing care, and they are ready to help.
“The services we would be able to provide are ongoing counseling through our clinicians, psychiatric assessments, drug appointments, that sort of thing,” said Grigg. “We therefore feel that we can offer the outpatient services that are requested of us. “
Grigg stressed that the COVID pandemic is an extraordinary stressful event and people should not be afraid to seek mental health care
“In addition to the pandemic, there are economic challenges in our communities and in the Southeast (Alaska). So with all of these changes comes the increased need, we see people using more substances, be it drugs or alcohol, we see depression, anxiety increasing to the point that people who don’t have never had to seek treatment or have never asked for support, we see them doing that. And I think, you know, it’s unfortunate, but Haines is no different than any other town in the Southeast.
Grigg says he expects negotiations to continue and the services to be rolled out in the coming months.
“The word used by Mayor Olerud was urgency. So to say that we are going to plan six months would be irresponsible. I think you’ll see our presence here. in the very near future.
He said Bartlett’s services are funded by state, grants, public assistance programs and patient insurance. If needed, they can provide services for free, so cost is not a barrier to help.
Grigg also responded to an open question regarding $ 1.4 million in CARES Act funding discussed last winter to support Haines’ disaster response, including behavioral health services, as reported by KHNS. He said that ultimately, due to legal and bureaucratic issues, Bartlett Hospital did not get that funding.
“Unfortunately, because of other bureaucratic challenges and things we couldn’t get over,” Grigg said. “And that’s just the fact, the money was never given to us to spend. So I don’t know where this money is. This money expired on June 30. So these funds will not be used to support our efforts. Bartlett will use her own funds and insurance reimbursements to support the work we do in your community. “