A staffing crisis across state-run mental health facilities has decreased access to care for patients, with some waiting months for services, state officials told the Mental Health Commission on Thursday.
Within the Department of Mental Health’s division of behavioral health, about 35 percent of registered nurse positions are vacant, 57 percent of licensed practical nurses are vacant, 32 percent of entry-level psychiatric tech positions are vacant and 28 percent of entry level security aide positions are vacant as well.
The department has slowed admissions to its adult psychiatric hospitals, and 41 beds have been taken offline across facilities “due to our inability to safely staff those locations,” said Nora Bock, the director of the department’s division of behavioral health.
Asked by commissioner Lynne Unnerstall how patients are being taken care of without the necessary staff, Bock said, “in many respects, they’re not.”
Staffing shortages mean less available capacity and fewer patients being served, Bock said.
State-operated facilities for adults can serve individuals who have been committed by the courts, and without sufficient capacity, some have to remain in jails instead, “and it’s a question of whether they’re getting any type of appropriate service,” she said.
“Within our facilities as well, if you’re just trying to make it day by day, less treatment is occurring because people are just trying to cover minimums and make sure that people get their medications and get fed,” Bock said. “So it’s a negative consequence all the way around, and it’s a reality that happens in our inpatient settings as well as in our community settings.”
Department officials told the commission low pay was a factor contributing to the staffing shortage. The department has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with temporary staffing agencies to try to fill shortages.
“We’ve become dependent on high-cost agency staffing contracts to meet the needs,” she said. “We’re a little bit concerned because those contracts may become less available in the near future.”
Last year, department-run facilities also saw COVID-19 cases surge, causing staff to have to stay home and quarantine. But unions representing facility workers said at the time that enforcement policies were patchwork, and due to staff shortages were being required to work after testing positive for the virus if they weren’t showing symptoms.
As of Monday, there have been 2,281 cases among department staff, with 24 of those active, and 528 cases among residents and patients, with one active. In total, six staff and 13 patients have died due to the virus, according to department figures.
The department has worked with Learfield Communications, a Plano, Texas marketing consultant who has an office in Jefferson City, on a social media campaign in an effort to recruit workers. The firm has been paid more than $405,000 by the Department of Mental Health for advertising services in fiscal year 2022, according to the Missouri Accountability Portal.
While ads have had high engagement on social media, at a recent job fair only five candidates showed up, Sara Murphy, the department’s human resources director, told the commission.
Potential job candidates have expressed disappointment in the rate of pay the department offers, Murphy said.
“It is not making the dent that we need it to,” she said.
Jessica Bax, the director of DMH’s division of developmental disabilities, said during Thursday’s meeting that October marked the first month in “a very long time” that more new employees started versus those leaving.
According to a slide shared during the meeting, 35 direct …….