Pa. ranks below national average for mental health care providers

May 23, 2108 | By Brett Sholtis

Pennsylvania lags behind the national average for access to mental health care providers, according to Hospital and Health System Association’s analysis of data from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The availability of mental health professionals, including therapists, psychiatrists and drug-and-alcohol counselors, also varies greatly from county to county, the interactive report shows.

This is a problem for people who need help and who may get discouraged if it isn’t available, said Robert Shipp, vice president of population health strategies at the association.

“Once they’ve acknowledged that they’re ready to recieve treatment, you’ve got to be ready to connect them with those services,” Shipp said.

The problem is often worse in rural counties like Perry, Mifflin, Franklin and Adams, where people might have to travel hours to see a therapist, Shipp said.

Shipp says his organization, which advocates for the health care industry, hopes to shine a light on the need for more specialists and develop new strategies for connecting people to mental health services.

“It starts a conversation as to, what are some of those contributing factors?” he said. “Is it economic barriers? Is it educational barriers? What is it that is contributing to the need?”

Shipp pointed to telemedicine as one way to fill the gap in services until more providers are available. Patients should also consult with primary care doctors, who sometimes have experts on hand to help with behavioral health issues.

By the numbers:

Pennsylvania has a statewide average of 179 mental health care practitioners per 100,000 people. That’s below the national average of 214 providers per 100,000. Fifty-three of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties also lag below the statewide average.

Predominantly rural counties have some of the fewest providers per 100,000 people. In some cases, those counties have only a handful of working practitioners. Perry County has 12 mental health care providers — a stark difference from the 439 available in Cumberland County. Rural Fulton County has seven mental health providers.

In midstate Pennsylvania, some of the counties with the fewest per-capita mental health services include:

  • Adams County, with 69.5 mental health providers per 100,000 people
  • Fulton County, with 47.8 mental health providers per 100,000 people
  • Juniata County, with 12 mental health providers per 100,000 people
  • Mifflin County, with 88.5 mental health providers per 100,000 people
  • Northumberland County, with 31.3 mental health providers per 100,000 people
  • Perry County, with 26.2 mental health providers per 100,000 people

Dauphin County and Lebanon County both exceeded the statewide average. Dauphin County has 198.4 mental health providers per 100,000 people. Lebanon County has 229 mental health providers per 100,000 people.

Click here to view the interactive, online report.