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New report finds Ohio's mental health & substance abuse services are at a breaking point

Alex Green

A rising number of patients and a shortage of staff in Ohio’s behavioral health system during the pandemic, is leading to longer wait times for care.

“Isolation, anxiety, depression and substance use all have risen dramatically and as the pandemic has lingered, what we’ve seen is significant increases in requests for services and treatment and care,” said Teresa Lampl, CEO of the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Provider.

Lampl’s organization recently released a report called “Breaking Point.” Last fall, it conducted a statewide survey of private and non-profit behavioral health care organizations and found disturbing problems.

Demand for services is exploding with more than 70% of providers in Ohio reporting a higher need for adult and youth mental health services from August to October 2021. Providers are also reporting more than 60% higher increased need for adult substance abuse services.

“In the past where it may be days or weeks to access an appointment, it’s now weeks or months,” said Lampl.

The survey shows that more than 60% of respondents reported longer wait times for adult and youth mental health services from August to October 2021. More than 50% reported longer waits for adult substance use disorder treatment.

Lampl explains that how long it takes to get help depends on if providers are close to where a patient lives, and what their insurance covers.

“We would prefer that people be able to access care when they need it because those wait times, we know then create more intensive need and also will then require long recovery periods and may result in poorer outcomes overall,” said Lampl.

Lampl also said more behavioral health care workers are leaving their jobs, making appointments even more difficult. The list of workers includes every position from psychiatrists, nurses, and counselors to employees at residential facilities.

Lampl said while telemedicine was incredibly important at the start of the pandemic, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem that additional workers are needed.

The “Breaking Point” report recommends using available pandemic relief funds to stabilize the workforce, recruitment and retention of behavioral health workers.

“We know we need to build some different training pathways and opportunities for tuition reimbursement and loan forgiveness that hopefully will recruit more young people to come into the helping professions and into behavioral health care,” said Lampl.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.