The El Sereno-based Anne Sippi Clinics has long struggled to fill 10 positions for nurses and aides to care for its 120 clients with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses.
A shortage of behavioral health workers in Los Angeles County and across the state has made those slots especially hard to fill.
“I am really concerned,” said Michael Rosberg, co-owner of ASC Treatment Group, parent company of the Sippi residential treatment clinics. “Not only is there a dearth of qualified people.
“There’s also a problem of finding people who are really trained, qualified and willing to do the heavy lifting in helping people with major mental illnesses.”
The shortfall in behavioral health workers was the focus of a downtown forum Thursday hosted by the California Future Health Workforce Commission.
The commission, led by University of California President Janet Napolitano and Lloyd Dean, chief executive of San Francisco-based Dignity Health, has proposed a $3 billion plan to lawmakers, universities and employers to plug a statewide gap in primary care physicians, psychiatrists, mental health providers and home care workers for older adults.
Its proposals include 10 ways to recruit, train and deploy nearly 15,000 new doctors and other health professionals by 2030 while adding 47,000 health care workers.
If nothing is done, the commission projects a statewide shortage of 4,100 primary care physicians within the next decade.
Los Angeles County fares better than the statewide average of the number of primary care doctors and psychiatrists compared to its population, according to the California Health Care Foundation, a supporter of the workforce commission.
But an analysis of federal workforce data found the county had 34 regions with a shortage of primary care physicians, with approximately 500 needed to fill the gap.
Many of the shortages occur in the south county, with some regions in South Los Angeles having just a few primary care physicians or none at all.
“Even though the county is doing a bit better than the statewide average, there are still not enough primary care or mental health providers,” said Kristof Stremikis, director of market analysis and insight for Oakland-based California Health Care Foundation. “Businesses have a robust interest in a robust medical workforce.
“If their employees can’t see a doctor,” he said, “that impacts productivity.”
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department also listed 14 areas that lacked enough psychiatrists, with nearly 140 needed to meet federal standards. The worst shortages occur in high desert communities in the Antelope Valley, with other shortages reported in Compton, North Long Beach and the South Bay.
The county also trails other regions in California in its number of licensed clinical counselors and psychiatric technicians, according to a UC San Francisco report.
A December poll by the California Health Care Foundation and Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly six out of 10 county residents said the region didn’t have enough mental health providers.
Rosberg has run Anne Sippi Clinics’ residential treatment centers in East Los Angeles and Bakersfield for more than four decades, as well providing workers at outpatient clinics in Commerce and Pasadena.
He said his clinics, which employ 90 people and are searching for 10 more, have had trouble finding doctors, psychiatrists, nurses and aides willing to work with a behavioral health population, particularly during an era of low unemployment.
“You find the nurses come and go relatively quickly, and that’s tough,” Rosberg said. “You’ve got to work really hard to find a doctor willing to help them, and a good psychiatrist is hard to find.”
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