Finding trained staff for mental health facilities is a challenge

Finding trained staff for mental health facilities is a challenge une 24, 2007 – Even though a new mental health hospital was recently built and opened in Coalinga, only 500 of the facility’s 1,500 beds are currently being used, because there aren’t enough trained professionals to staff it at capacity.
“They planned it years ago as a means to take the relief off of us, but that hasn’t happened,” said Cindy Bennett, assistant to the executive director of Patton State Mental Hospital.

Patton also has in excess of 1,500 beds, and is almost always at capacity, forcing mentally ill individuals who have been deemed unfit to stand trial to be housed in county jails.

The same is true of state hospitals for the developmentally challenged, said Evonne Gibson, assistant to the executive director at Porterville State Hospital.

“We do have a 96-bed expansion currently in the works which should be completed by the middle of 2008. At that time we will be hiring 140 new staff members before it’s opened,” Gibson said.

Easier said than done.

A national epidemic could be to blame for the overcrowding in state run hospitals and, as a result, in county jails. Some mental health care professionals feel that despite efforts to create more space, a lack of experienced medical professionals is the source of the problem.

“They are having trouble finding people to staff (Coalinga), and yes, generally there is a shortage of trained professionals nationally,” said Rusty Selix, the Executive Director for the Mental Health Association in California, based in Sacramento. “There just don’t appear to be any options at this time.”

Selix said that in recent years hundreds of millions of dollars have been thrown at the issue in order to get more mental health care professionals trained, but he acknowledged that there is no way to see results overnight.

“We do need more trained professionals, and that’s going to take a long time,” Selix said.

He said that the state is looking at programs such as early, or conditional, release programs to make more room in state run hospitals.

While sheriff’s officials such as Deputy Chief Glen Pratt who is in charge of corrections, say that some of these mentally ill patients are considered a danger and early release programs may not be the way to go, keeping them housed in the jails has been a Band-Aid causing more trouble than solutions.

“It’s like the same road block exists in both of these state run institutions,” said Kathy Wild, health care administrator for the Sheriff’s Department’s corrections system. “But the point is that people who need mental health treatment simply aren’t getting it.”

Katherine Rosenberg can be reached at 951-6276 or by e-mail at

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