August 19, 2019

We'll need to boost mental health pros - Daily Leader Extra : Editorials

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We'll need to boost mental health pros

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Posted: Monday, August 5, 2019 3:21 pm

Health officials say years of alcohol abuse on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation near Whiteclay, Neb. requires more doctors, psychologists and counselors to deal with the aftereffects.

It's a shortage that we're reading about in all sorts of places.

South Dakota's criminal justice system, in particular, is stressed because of a shortage of counselors to treat people whose crimes were either caused or worsened by drug and alcohol abuse.

South Dakota lawmakers have stated that diversion from the state prison system should start with substance addiction problems. But even if the framework is put in place and the money appropriated, trained workers are still needed to execute the strategy.

Separately, the Human Services Center in Yankton, the state's only public psychiatric hospital, has been plagued by a shortage of workers. The stress of the shortage may have contributed to the high turnover of administrators, with the latest resignation coming in May. The state is conducting its fourth search for the top position since 2011.

Even local law enforcement is feeling the shortage, as drug, alcohol and domestic violence sentences usually come with a required counseling component. The wait to meet with counselors can sometimes be long.

Ultimately, the state will need to work to recruit and train more mental health professionals. We may need to appropriate additional money for scholarships and incentives to bring new people into the field. We may have to provide additional compensation for working in underserved areas or in specialized fields.

We know this will all be expensive, but it is a critical field that needs attention. Our public safety depends on it.

-- Jon M. Hunter