Think of them as Mental Health Care Deserts. As of September 30, 2022, Louisianans living in the 167 Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Areas (“HPSA”) live in communities without adequate local mental health care.

The Bureau of Health Workforce of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (“DHHS”) identifies HPSAs. In other words, this is official information, and the recent quarterly report is available at:

What does this mean?

3,627,464 Louisiana citizens live in the 167 Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Areas. Another way to express the needs is to say that with Louisiana’s census of 4.6 million, nearly 79% of Louisiana’s citizens live in areas without enough mental health services.

Among this 79% of Louisianans, DHHS reports only 26.2% of the mental health needs are being met and that to meet the mental health needs of Louisiana’s citizens in the 167 Mental Health HCPAs would require 166 additional psychiatrists. However, the report does not indicate how many other mental health professionals are needed.

Questions About Louisiana’s Mental Health Care Deserts

Is the State of Louisiana in front of this and actively recruiting psychiatrists and mental health professionals to take advantage of a great career opportunity?

Is access to a psychiatrist the correct measure of access to mental health care? If psychiatrists’ gatekeeping “med check” role in managed care is required, then psychiatrists may be the key indicator.

But if a public mental health system prioritizes treatment, then a better measure of access may be access to other licensed mental health professions like counselors and social workers. Aside from diagnosing and checking medications, are there enough direct caregivers to address the deeply personal aspects of mental health care?

Is there any reason to expect Louisiana’s shortage of mental health professionals (of all types) will improve without an intentional, coordinated effort to build Louisiana’s network of mental health providers?

Is the shortage of mental health care professionals more significant for children? (It seems to be.) If “children are our future,” what does the lack of mental health care for children portend for Louisiana’s future? Nothing good, I imagine.

I am not sure anyone has answers to these questions or can provide a simple solution. What I do believe is that for the sake of all Louisiana’s children and families, all of us hold a real interest in ensuring Louisiana’s citizens have access to mental health care.

Rick Wheat
Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services

Data Source: Designated Health Professional Shortage Areas Statistics: Fourth Quarter of Fiscal Year 2022, Designated HPSA Quarterly Summary As of September 30, 2022. Bureau of Health Workforce, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

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