State helps with effort to recruit more psychiatrists

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state is helping three mental health facilities in Fairbanks recruit psychiatrists.

The recruitment campaign involves Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, the Fairbanks Community Mental Health Center and the Fairbanks Psychiatric and Neurological Clinic. The shortage is so serious one of the facilities is not accepting new psychiatric patients.

''What's happening is we have a backlog of patients waiting for care,'' said Karl Sanford, assistant administrator at the hospital.

The $50,000 recruiting effort includes a Nov. 7 trip to San Diego for a psychiatric conference where the Fairbanks solicitors will recruit from a pool of about 7,000 psychiatric practitioners.

The issue came up at this week's Alaska Mental Health Board meeting in Fairbanks. The board, which convened Wednesday and adjourned Saturday, is a panel of 12 governor appointees who plan the state's mental health budget and access programs.

''It's serious,'' said Don Gray, one of the two Fairbanks members of the board, of the doctor shortage.

The Fairbanks Psychiatric and Neurological Clinic has stopped accepting new psychiatric patients. The Fairbanks Community Mental Health Center is taking new patients but patients must wait one to two weeks to get an appointment. Meanwhile, the hospital is seeing on average four more mental health patients a day over last year.

''In our rural areas, it's even worse. They just do without,'' said Jim Gottstein, an AMHB member from Anchorage, which has 15 fewer psychiatrists than it needs.

Sanford said the shortage is nationwide.

For now, the hospital is hiring temporary physicians through a placement agency, but Sanford said the stopgap measure has serious drawbacks.

''It doesn't do any good,'' Sanford said. ''If you think about mental illness, the benefit is to have the same person helping so they get to know you and they get to know your illness.''

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