REGION — Franklin County is in the throes of a shortage of psychiatrists and mental health medication managers. The pandemic has only made matters worse, as the needs for mental health treatment in the county increased.

The shortage has added stress to the few mental health healthcare professionals in the county and made it more difficult for individuals in need of mental health treatment to find help in a timely manner, according to local experts.

Dorine Wright, the clinical program manager at Western Maine Behavioral Health, calls it an “extreme shortage of counselors.” This has made their goal of connecting people in crisis with psychiatric counselors an “extremely difficult task.”

According to Wright, there are only around three mental health medication managers in the county and there is up to a six-month wait list to see some of them. For perspective, Wright believes that a minimum of five professionals in one county would be on “the low side.”

“It’s even difficult to get on a waitlist at this point in Franklin County because most providers have such a long waitlist,” Wright said.

Maine is also battling a state-wide shortage of mental health professionals. According to Donna Lafean, provider recruiter at Maine Medical Center/Maine Medical Partners, there are currently 22 openings for psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners or physician assistants across MaineHealth.


“It has been a challenge getting candidates,” Lafean wrote.

But Wright believes access to psychiatrists and other medication management professionals in Franklin County is especially “limited.”

Franklin Community Health Work (FCHN), the health network connected with Franklin Memorial Hospital, is currently awaiting the arrival of a new psychiatrist in September, who will treat patients alongside only two other psychiatric nurse practitioners working for FCHN.

FCHN has been without a psychiatrist on staff for around half a year, according to Mavis Dubord, FCHN’s vice president of practice operations.

“We just do not have enough behavioral health clinicians to do the work,” Dubord said. “Psychiatric services are just really strapped.”

Dubord believes there’s a number of reasons why Franklin County and Maine are battling this shortage: a lack of programs to train for these positions; restrictions on the kinds of mental health professionals FCHN can hire; and the challenging nature of the job.


“The work is really hard. It’s a very emotionally draining type of work. I think a lot of times people that do go to school and work in these roles, they either after a while they get done altogether or they cut down to very part time because the work is hard,” Dubord said.

Wright wonders if it might be “a recruitment problem, if people don’t want to come this far north.”

Dubord confirmed this suspicion, explaining “we have a hard time recruiting any type of medical provider here. You have to want to live in a more remote area and enjoy what we (Franklin County) have to offer.”

Access to mental health services were already limited in Franklin County prior to 2020. Once the pandemic hit, Wright noted that “people that we hadn’t typically seen in crisis” began reaching out to Western Maine Behavioral Health in increasing numbers — as opposed to offering services to just repeat patients.

“It’s a very stressful time, so if someone’s already fragile and now you’re in the midst of a pandemic, it’s life changing,” Dubord said. “The emergency room has been busier with patients seeking mental health treatment.”

Dubord said that FCHN is taking steps to handle the shortage and provide care. This includes a collaboration with MaineHealth to connect local patients with psychiatric services based in Portland through telehealth virtual visits.

Western Maine Behavioral Health also offers 30 days of crisis services to stabilize individuals.

However, Wright fears there is no end in sight for the shortage.

“It’s been a struggle for quite some time and it seems to just be increasingly getting worse,” she said.

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