JEFFERSON CITY — Staffing issues continue to plague Missouri mental hospitals despite attempts by Gov. Mike Parson and the legislature to raise wages for state workers.
According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health, there are currently 203 people awaiting admission to state psychiatric hospitals after being ordered by a judge for “skills restoration.”
That’s up from nearly 160 people in January, when staffing problems at hospitals were blamed on the state not keeping pace with the private sector on salaries.
But, despite giving all workers in the state a 5% raise in March, on top of a previous 2% pay hike, DMH spokeswoman Debra Walker said that understaffing among nurses remained a problem.
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“Hospitals have reported a moderate increase in requests for supportive care assistants, dietary workers and environmental services staff, but have not yet seen an increase in the number of nurses, psychologists, social workers and other accredited disciplines necessary for treatment,” Walker said Tuesday.
The ongoing struggle to fully staff state psychiatric facilities comes amid renewed attention on the need for mental health treatment as a way to address gun violence.
Republican U.S. Senator from Missouri, Roy Blunt, backs a provision of a broader gun control bill being drafted in the Senate to create a nationwide network of community behavioral health clinics and counseling services. addiction, as well as funding for school-based mental health support.
If approved, the clinics would be reimbursed by Medicaid for the cost of providing the services, similar to how the federal government funds health centers for physical care.
At the state level, Walker said DMH employees try to work with those waiting in county jails for a hospital spot based on the acuity of their mental illness.
Agency workers are also in contact with county jails where they can provide services to people seeking treatment, she added.
In addition to the increases, the Legislature agreed to spend more than $3 million on a 25-bed expansion to the St. Louis Forensic Treatment Center-North to meet increased demand for treatment services. The extra money will increase the hospital’s capacity to 75 inpatient beds.
Governor Mike Parson has yet to take action on the budget.
With more than 1,000 full-time vacancies at the agency’s six psychiatric hospitals, the department advertises on radio and television and holds job fairs in hopes of attracting more workers.
The state’s online job portal shows a direct orderly at Hawthorn Children’s Psychiatric Hospital would earn $15.07 an hour.
A job listing for a registered nurse at the facility indicates a base salary of $66,000 per year.