Saturday, May 14, 2016

News Flash From Channel 5: "There is a shortage of psychiatrists"

This was an actual headline from a local news channel.  Of course the first question is where have they been for the last 30 years?  That was about the last time Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center (AMRTC) was adequately staffed by psychiatrists.  In fact, at that point some of the psychiatrists working there considered it to be a high point in the education of medical students from the University of Minnesota.  One of them told me that their clinical rotation was the highest rated of any in the department.  The gist of this story is that the shortage of psychiatrists has led to inconsistent staffing for patients who need consistency.  The reporter emphasis was on Minnesota Department of Human Services hiring three psychiatrists with disciplinary actions on record with the Board of Medical Practice.  They also make the point that many of their psychiatrists are flown in for a few weeks at a time to see patients and this disrupts continuity of care.  The mother of a patient and a State Ombudsman comment about the importance of continuity of care.  If you watch the entire clip, the end is rather anticlimactic as the reporter points out that Minnesota is really no different than other states.  They are all suffering from the shortage of psychiatrists.

All in all a very dramatic presentation of a problem that nobody wants to solve.  After all, I just pointed out that in the late 1980s and early 1990s staffing at this same hospital was excellent.  The psychiatric staff there was first rate and one of the best hospital staffs that could be found anywhere.  So what happened?   In a word that I have used frequently on this blog mismanagement.  At some point professional managers decided to ignore the once popular theories of Peter Drucker and manage professional workers like production workers.  They saw psychiatry as a production job and eliminated the systems aspects critical for a team approach to psychiatric treatment.  That team approach is also critical to the practice environment and the practice environment and patient care also suffers when governments and insurance companies start telling physicians what to do and what to prescribe.  The outcome is as predictable as the current failed state hospital system.

None of those basics are in this sensational piece from Channel 5 News.  The only narrative I can detect in this story is that there are long distance psychiatrists and problematic psychiatrists practicing problematic psychiatry at the state hospital - at least until the main reporter starts with a focus on the shortage of psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists in this story function only as scapegoats.  That is easy to do when you limit the practice and hire people who are willing to work in a compromised treatment environment.  It is also easy to do when you eliminate psychiatrists and experienced psychiatric nursing staff from the management and planning aspects of the system.   Just last week I pointed out that there were no psychiatrists on a Governor's Task Force on Mental Health.  There are no psychiatric experts discussing hospital care or what it will take to repair the system in the news piece.  It is as if we are in a parallel universe, pretending that politicians and bureaucrats can do the job of psychiatrists without any training.  They can turn around and ration access to psychiatrists and then blame psychiatrists for all of the problems they have created.    Luckily,  I have been writing about this curious set of circumstances here for a few years.  You can follow my commentary in the links below and see how it compares to the skewed news version.

The additional question any reader should ask is why psychiatrists are never consulted and why attorneys and bureaucrats with no psychiatric training are in charge of these facilities?  This the cultural trend that started 30 years ago.  Throw out the doctors and run the healthcare system with politicians and bureaucrats that tell the doctors what to do.  Make is seem like doctors in state hospitals can operate in a vacuum rather than on teams and have the bureaucrats tell them how to manage clinical problems.  For a good portion of that 30 year period the word on the street was that the State of Minnesota was shutting down state hospitals and they were going to shut down AMRTC.  Those rumors do not inspire the confidence or commitment from medical or nursing professionals that you need to build a first rate state hospital system.  Who wants to go through credentialing and all that professional applications involve to apply to a hospital that is rumored to be closing soon?

The problem in Minnesota is not about trusting psychiatrists, no matter how bad a media article attempts to portray them.  This article is about trusting the politicians and bureaucrats that run this system.  In 30 years those politicians and bureaucrats have done nothing to merit anyone's trust in managing the public system of mental health care.  The failed state mental health system in Minnesota is an excellent example of what happens when you leave the management of a profession up to amateurs.

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA

Previous posts on the management deficiencies in the Minnesota state mental health system (click on the last word in each line for the post):

Executive Order: No Psychiatrists On Governor's Task Force On Mental Health [ 5/4/2016 ]

Minnesota's Mental Health Crisis - The Logical Conclusion of 30 years of Rationing [11/2/2015 ]

Minnesota State Hospitals Need To Be Managed To Minimize Aggression [1/6/2016 ]

Minnesota Psychiatrist Workforce Shortage [12/2/2015 ]

The CMS Investigation Of Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center [1/19/2016 ]

Minnesota Finally Rejects Managed Care [5/29/2015]

More On Violence And Aggression In Minnesota Hospitals [12/11/2014 ]

Minnesota Continues A Flawed Approach To Serious Mental Illness And Aggression [12/9/2014 ]

The Shadow State Hospital System [ 11/6/2014 ]


  1. So is Morton Hospital

  2. RB,

    Thanks for the link to these tragic circumstances.

    The tension between the state system and the non-state system is palpable in this article. When I read this paragraph:

    "State officials said decisions to release Medicaid patients from a hospital are not made solely by the outside screening system, but must also be approved by the hospital’s own emergency room physician. Morton Hospital, in a statement, said state law only requires emergency room doctors to sign off on patients’ physical health before they are released."

    I thought about the Minnesota situation. Most emergency departments are staffed with social workers who do all of the mental health screening. ED medical staff do not generally do mental health screening and discharge psychiatric patients.