Oklahoma psychiatrist shortage impacts UCO students

New information shows there are not enough psychiatrists in Oklahoma. (SAM ROYKA/THE VISTA)

Oklahoma lawmakers held an interim study on Nov. 7 before the House Public Health Committee focused on addressing many issues facing Oklahoma’s behavioral health workforce, with the main focus being on staffing shortages within the field. 

The interim study looked into the funding and staffing of Oklahoma’s mental health behavioral workforce development in comparison to other states. 

Tequia Sier, a project director for the behavioral health workforce for Healthy Minds Policy Initiative, a Tulsa-based nonprofit organization, spoke at the interim study. Sier said that Oklahoma’s psychiatrist workforce is 22 percent smaller than the national average. Sier also said that Oklahoma meets less than 29 percent of the need for advanced practice nurses who have experience in psychiatry. 

One of the hosts of the study, State Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, said in a press release, “This study provided a poignant look at the gap between the size of our mental health workforce and the need by Oklahomans, in particular psychologists and psychiatrists.” 

At the University of Central Oklahoma, the Center for Counseling and Well-being has faced its own problems with staffing shortages while trying to serve the students at UCO. 

“Most all College Counseling Centers experience a staffing shortage,” said Cassie Murphy, director of the Center for Counseling and Well-being. “Very few centers have the number of staff that is recommended for student counselor ratios.” 

Even with staffing shortages, the Center for Counseling and Well-being still tries to serve as many students that it can. 

“We help students with services to the best of our ability. At times that means some clinicians are seeing more clients than recommended,” Murphy said. 

However, this shortage of mental health staff and personnel at the university does not mean that students would be unable to reach out or to speak to a counselor the same day. In order to still accommodate students and their needs, even with staffing shortages, Murphy said the

center has increased the number of groups and the number of counselors available for same-day appointments. 

The next legislative session in the State of Oklahoma starts on Feb. 5, 2024.

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