Oroville Mercury-Register

Psychiatry residency program aims to fill local gap in workforce

- By Michael Weber mweber@chicoer.com

With a shortage in the psychiatri­c workforce in Butte and other north state counties, a newly accredited psychiatri­c residency program aims to bring four psychiatry residents to the region each year starting in 2024.

The nonprofit Healthy Rural California in partnershi­p with Butte County Behavioral Health announced Thursday it received accreditat­ion for a new rural psychiatri­c residency program, one of seven programs accredited in the United States this year, according to a press release.

The nonprofit was launched in 2020 by ButteGlenn Medical Society with offices located at Meriam Park and has partnered with Butte County Behavioral Health on the psychiatry residency program.

Butte County Behavioral Health Director Scott Kennelly said the program will bring psychiatry residents to live in and understand communitie­s in the north state and hopefully bring a much needed workforce that has shrunk in the last three years.

“The entire county has transition­ed post-COVID primarily to (telephone) based services and there’s few in person psychiatri­sts. And the more rural you are, the harder it is to attract a live, in-person psychiatri­st,” Kennelly said. “It’s going to be really great to have people in person who get to know our community and our clients.”

Kennelly said the department lost staff after COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns with many of its psychiatri­sts retiring. Now, almost all psychiatri­c services are provided through remote care, he said.

The psychiatry residency program hopes to attract more in-person psychiatri­sts to the north state area, which Healthy Rural California CEO Kristy Bird MaKieve said there are no psychiatri­c residency programs between Sacramento and the middle of Oregon.

“The impact for all our clinical partners is huge — more psychiatri­sts serving patients while they learn, and then potentiall­y being recruited to stay,” MaKieve said in an email.

The program is four years long and recruiting will begin immediatel­y. Residents will rotate through clinics at Butte County Behavioral Health, the Veterans Administra­tion in Chico and Sacramento, U.C. Davis Medical Center, SutterYuba Behavioral Health, Ampla Health, Therapeuti­c Solutions and North Valley Indian Health.

MaKieve said the program is broken into different areas because each clinic has different expertise required by the accredited program.

Residents will learn neurology during their first year, then child and adolescent psychiatry in the second year at Sutter-Yuba Behavioral Health, she said. Then residents will be able to get their inpatient experience at Butte County Behavioral Health or other clinics.

Kennelly said the department will likely start working with the psychiatri­c residents after the first year or two of the program as they will begin in the Sacramento and Davis area.

“If they get an opportunit­y to work with us, most people tend to fall in love with our services and our staff and our clients and want to stay. That’s the whole goal; is bring people in person, let them get to know Butte County and the wonderful things in our community, and hopefully they’ll stay,” Kenelly said.

The psychiatri­c residency program received approval Thursday by the Accreditat­ion Council for Graduate Medical Education, Kenelly said.

“We’re finally past that huge hurdle of getting accredited. Now we’re going to focus on interviewi­ng candidates who are interested in perhaps coming up and doing a rural residency program in a community that’s been impacted by a lot of trauma.”

In addition to the psychiatry residency program, Healthy Rural California has proposed a family medicine residency program with state funding aimed to bring four family medicine residents to the north state beginning in 2024 or 2025.

MaKieve said the push to remote care during the pandemic caused many practition­ers in general to retire, including long time providers in rural areas. She said research data shows chronic issues with access to health care in rural areas.

Together, both programs could bring eight new doctors to the area each year and fill a void in care in Butte County, MaKieve said.

“There’s a lot of catching up with the rest of the state and country,” MaKieve said, “but there’s also just a massive shift in health care that puts the rural areas in, I would say, risk. That’s why there’s this federal and state push… they recognize how important it is to have graduate medical education in the rural communitie­s so they can stop this chronic and increasing access to health care issue.”

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