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Answering the Call for Help

Answering the Call for Help

February 2005

by Anne-Kathleen Borushko

A cry for help. A busy signal. Nowadays too many calls for help from people with mental illness go unanswered. And that could be dangerous for some patients who might resort to drastic measures.

In Texas annually, it is estimated that more than half a million adults experience serious mental illness. In addition, more than 150,000 Texas children and adolescents have been diagnosed with severe mental illness.

To complicate this issue, when it comes to mental health professionals, demand far outweighs supply. "There is a nationwide shortage of psychiatric professionals, particularly nurses," said Colleen Keller, Ph.D., professor of family nursing care at the Health Science Center.

Gail Brenz, a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist, attests to the local shortage. "Our need is growing," said Brenz, an alumna of the Health Science Center and the director of the Psychiatric Consultation Liaison Services for the Methodist Healthcare System. "We’re waiting for qualified graduates. We’ve been recruiting for a full-time psychiatric nurse practitioner (NP) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS) for four months and we’ve had no qualified applicants. Now we’ve expanded our recruiting efforts."

A new program at the Health Science Center will produce the prepared professionals Brenz - and so many others in South Texas - are seeking.
Dr. Keller recently received an $80,750 grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to fund the project "Implementation of the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (P/MH-NP) Program for Psychiatric Clinical Services."

This new program will utilize a year-round curriculum to streamline the sequence of classes. Students will be able to complete the program more quickly, thereby enabling trained professionals to enter the workforce more quickly.

In addition, P/MH-NP classes will be placed online so that they will be accessible to distance learners throughout South Texas. According to statistics, the need for mental health professionals is great not only in the San Antonio area, but also throughout South Texas.

"There are also many outlying areas without adequate services," Brenz said. "We recently received a call from a hospital in Uvalde that needed our help."

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Latino adolescents are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and suicide than their non-Latino counterparts. Texas, with its growing number of Latino youth, should be particularly concerned about this statistic.

Long recognized for its strength in diversity, the School of Nursing has achieved success in recruiting and retaining underrepresented minorities in both undergraduate (39 percent Hispanic) and graduate programs (13 percent Hispanic) such as the P/MH-NP program.

"This is important because the workforce should mirror the cultural diversity of society," Dr. Keller said. "Through our new program, we will continue to encourage underrepresented minorities to enter the nursing profession, particularly in psychiatric mental health services, where the need is so great."

The first group of students will begin the program this June and graduate in May 2006.

For South Texas, this means an increase in the number of trained psychiatric nurse practitioners, which should increase the availability of care and access to care. The goal: better mental well-being for all of Texas.


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