Summit County has a large need for behavioral health services, but the number of providers is declining |

Summit County has a large need for behavioral health services, but the number of providers is declining

Health Department striving for creative solutions to address the problem

Connect Summit County, a mental wellness nonprofit, partners with the Summit County Health Department behavioral health team to provide various services that are mandated by the state.
Courtesy of CONNECT Summit County

Around 6,800 Summit County residents are expected to receive government-funded behavioral health services this year — a more than 800% increase from when the Summit County Health Department revamped its mental health and substance abuse programs five years ago.

The number was expected to level off over the next few years, Director of Behavioral Health Aaron Newman told the Summit County Council last week, but he said there’s also been a decline in the number of clinicians left in the field. In the meantime, the Health Department’s behavioral health division is working to address local needs through its strategic plan.

Summit County is mandated by the state to provide a series of behavioral health services ranging from adult and youth inpatient, outpatient and residential mental health care as well as 24-hour crisis care, services for the incarcerated, school-based mental health intervention and recovery support services. 

The Health Department offers these programs through its behavioral health network, which is made up of 92 clinicians in Summit and Wasatch counties as well as 2,700 others located across the state. It has a budget of around $9 million. The county contracts Medicaid and state-funded services through Healthy U Behavioral and the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. 

However, Huntsman is experiencing challenges as its caseload increases. There’s also been a 17% decrease in active licenses in Summit County between 2022-2023, according to Newman. He said nonprofit providers have maintained a 40% increase in services since the end of the pandemic. There’s a 42% decrease in the number of clinicians taking commercial insurance, too.

Newman attributed this to mental health providers who have become more selective in the clients they see. Telehealth also plays a role. He noted one Summit County psychiatrist who transitioned exclusively to virtual services, eliminating office space and staff, and moving to a self-pay model — where the average price for services has jumped from $125 in 2021 to $175. This provider can no longer exist in the county’s network, leading more people to rely on Huntsman.

“How do we maintain quick and simple access to services?” Newman questioned, saying officials are committed to finding creative ways to maintain the quality of care they’ve offered for several years.

The Health Department is striving to address the issue by finding a way to encourage more people to study psychology or psychiatry in college. Newman said they are looking into scholarships that would help support prospective mental health professionals during the junior and senior years of their bachelor’s degree as well as provide internship opportunities and supplemental income while they work toward their master’s. 

Other trends this fiscal year include an increase in the number of clinicians specializing in LGBTQ services. Newman emphasized this isn’t conversion therapy, but additional training that gives providers sensitivity and insight into a particular area. It’s likely the current political environment and a slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation in Utah and across the country have contributed to an increase in people seeking mental health services. The Health Department recognized the need for LGBTQ-specific services in its mental wellness strategic plan.

Other trends include a reduction in the number of clinicians willing to see substance use disorder clients as well as more people with severe mental illness leaving the area because of the high cost of living. These clients are often moving to Salt Lake and Utah counties, and Newman said it’s important these individuals “don’t fall through the cracks.”

The top three diagnoses for adults were generalized anxiety disorder, depression and relationship counseling; specifically to help navigate coworker relationships as people return to the office. Youth diagnoses included attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depressive disorder and suicidal ideation. 

Newman noted local statistics related to suicide and mental health are comparable to the national averages. He said spring is the most common time for adults to attempt to take their life, while rates for youth are higher between August and September.

However, the THRIVE program, a project to empower and strengthen youth that was created by Live Like Sam and Well-being Elevated, has so far been effective as a preventive mental health initiative. Newman said Summit County youth have reported a 23% reduction in depression, a 26% reduction in anxiety and a 5% increase in quality of life during the first year and a half of the THRIVE program.

Pamella Bello, the director of behavioral health prevention for the Health Department, also highlighted programs designed to encourage parents to become more active in their children’s lives as a way to reduce risky behaviors. The team held 23 training sessions and 35 prevention-based events last year. 

County officials planned to review the behavioral health contract with the University of Utah before it expires next July. Newman said they are too far out to discuss any potential changes.

9-8-8 is the national crisis line. People who call or text the number will be connected to a trained counselor. The suicide hotline is connected to a center in Salt Lake City, which can dispatch Summit County’s mobile crisis outreach team. 

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