POCATELLO, Idaho - This week the state legislature passed a bill that offers a loan repayment program to students in order to bring more mental health practitioners into the state.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness just graded Idaho down to an "F" when it comes to the number of psychiatric doctors the state has to offer.
The Hospital Cooperative's executive director Robert Cuoio said the shortage is becoming a big problem since all 44 counties are facing this deficit. Out of those, 28 counties (or 64 percent of the state) do not have a psychiatrist at all.
"It's pretty troubling that every single county is basically underserved," Cuoio said.
So desperate times call for desperate measures, and in this case, those measures come in the form of a loan repayment program.
The program falls under Senate Bill 1400, which will give both State Hospital South and State Hospital North $85,000 each in order to incentivize students to stay in Idaho and practice. In return, the students will have a huge portion of their student loans paid-off through this program.
State Hospital South director Tracey Sessions said the hospital only has four psychiatrists on staff at the moment and only one licensed psychologist.
This program will help bring more psychologists, psychiatrists, mid-level psychiatrists, and other mental health practitioners to the hospital.
"It's a real challenge for our community when we discharge someone from the hospital making sure they have access to good psychiatric care," Sessions said.
She mentioned part of the reason why Idaho needed to develop its own loan payment program is because of the financial competition with private sectors.
"If the pay in the private sector offers more than what the state could offer, then people are always more enticed to go into the private sector, which they can often times also qualify for the loan repayment program through the National Health Service Corps.," she added.
But, the state hospitals don't qualify as state facilities, so that's why Idaho is asking to develop its own program with funding they have from the state.
Sessions added that Idaho having its own repayment program will entice local Idahoans to stay in Idaho and practice after they graduate instead of needing to go through the tough job of jumping through hoops to have out-of-state graduates pick up and move in.
"If we can build a system where they can stay in Idaho then we've kept Idaho citizens taking care of Idaho citizens, which to me is kind of a win-win," Sessions said.
Cuoio showed us the statistics today which indicate there are only 108 psychiatrists in Idaho, and 52 of those are located in Boise. This didn't come as a shocker to Sessions in the least bit.
Both Sessions and Cuoio said even though about half of the state's psychiatrists are located in Boise, that's still a low number.
In order to fix the immediate problem, Cuoio said the co-op is deploying video conferencing units to all of the hospitals in southeast Idaho to allow them access to the psychiatrists at the Portneuf Medical Center and the University of Utah.
The stats show there are only nine psychiatrists and only two child psychologists in Bannock County. As low as this number is, the county almost looks greedy compared to other rural areas who are completely psych-doc barren.
Here is a link to a copy of the bill's text: http://bit.ly/1d5q4mS