After years of planning, a program to train child and adolescent psychiatrists in Clark County is expected to be launched July 1.
The child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship program will start with two child and adolescent fellows. Those involved in establishing the training program hope that the fellows will stay in Southern Nevada, which has a shortage of such professionals, and help tackle the area’s growing pediatric mental health issues.
“I think it’s going to be enormously beneficial,” said Dr. Lisa Durette, who will serve as program director. “They will work with the agencies that have the greatest needs.”
The key agencies involved include the Clark County Department of Family Services, the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice Services, the University of Nevada School of Medicine and the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services.
The training sites for the first year will include Juvenile Justice Services facilities and the Desert Willow Treatment Center, which has 58 beds and is the only public hospital offering residential treatment for youth in Clark County.
The University Medical Center will be a training site during the second year.
A request for program approval is now before the Chicago-based Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The application was submitted last week and a response is expected in April, Durette said. The chance of obtaining approval is high and the program should roll out this summer, she added
The accreditation does not require a site visit, and the application will be on the council’s April meeting agenda, according to the council’s confirmation of having received the application. Clark County officials can expect a decision immediately after the meeting.
One fellow, a Las Vegas native, already has been selected, but Durette said the name has not yet been released.
Each agency will support a full-time fellow at an estimated cost of $80,000 per year when the program starts, Durette said. The two-year program will take two fellows each year. There is only a commitment to fund the first four years.
Only nine board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrists are in Las Vegas, but officials have said that about 40 to 50 are needed to meet the local demand. As of last year, Nevada had one child and adolescent psychiatrist for every 21,833 children.
Northern Nevada — a less populated area — has a more adequate number of professionals with that specialty thanks to a similar program that has been in place for several years, those involved in the efforts said. There are 14 board-certified child psychiatrists in the Reno area.
In Clark County, Family Services serves more than 330 children and youth who have a diagnosis of severe emotional disturbance and require mental health services, according to Director Lisa Ruiz-Lee.
The fellowship program will give officials an opportunity to better provide quality services to children and adolescents in the short term, according to Ruiz-Lee, and it will help build a capacity for services in the long term.
Clark County Family Services’ share to help fund the fellowship will come from a combination of state and county funds.
Clark County Family Court has agreed to pay the $80,000 for a full-time fellow at Juvenile Justice Services, said John “Jack” Martin, director of the county’s department of Juvenile Justice Services.
“The return on investment is twofold,” he said.
Studies have shown that child psychiatrists tend to practice in the community where they completed their fellowship, he said. He is hoping the program will entice participants to stay in Clark County.
The other benefit would be the clinical oversight that can be provided by the fellow in areas in which Juvenile Justice Services needs more help, such as assessments and medication management, Martin said.
Juvenile Justice Services also will use the fellow to help with the psychiatric needs of youth who will be leaving detention but will be placed on probation.
Approximately 70 percent of youth in custody of Juvenile Justice Services suffer from a mental illness, but the percentage fluctuates, Family Court Judge William Voy said. On any given day, the department oversees more than 2,500 juveniles.
“That’s pretty much consistent throughout the United States,” he said.
However, other communities comparable to Las Vegas have significantly more resources, he said.
Many of the youth in Juvenile Justice Services have a difficult time accessing the mental health services they need after being released from detention, Voy said. Sometimes it takes months to get an appointment with a child psychiatrist, especially if the child is a new patient.
Many of them wind up back in the system, he added.
If the locally trained fellows stay in Clark County, perhaps they can help change that outcome.
“We desperately need more,” Voy said.
Kelly Wooldridge, deputy administrator for the state’s Division of Child and Family Services, agreed that “there is quite a deficit in child psychiatrists in Clark County.”
The fellow at Desert Willow Treatment Center, under the direction of a psychiatrist, will rotate among the units and will carry a small caseload, Wooldridge said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at 702-383-0440, or firstname.lastname@example.org.