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Health care pros in Sussex Co. say more is needed to treat mental health in the region

Sun Behavioral Delaware

Health care professionals in Sussex County say there’s a lack of resources for people with mental health disorders in southern Delaware. 

“We’re actually the busiest we’ve ever been,” said Lisa Deal, Director of Pharmacy at Sun Behavioral Health in Georgetown. 

Sun Behavioral expanded its intensive outpatient telehealth program during the pandemic, and did so again recently to allow for evening appointments. Deal says this has allowed the behavioral health center to reach more patients in the region than ever before. 

But she adds it’s still not enough to address the growing mental health problem in the region, and Dr. David Tam, the CEO of the Sussex County health system Beebe Healthcare agrees. 

“There is a shortage of mental health providers,” said Tam. “We recognized that during the pandemic, during the lockdown, as people really had trouble with anxiety and with depression that came from being isolated.”     

Beebe also started its own tele-psychiatry program last Spring around the time Gov. John Carney, as part of his COVID-19 emergency order, allowed for Delaware providers to hire out of state psychiatrists to treat Delaware patients via telehealth.

But Tam says its appointments for this service continue to be booked up. He says data suggests patients are still delaying mental health care, and the need for services in the region far outweighs the resources.

“That’s the way this integrated approach, working with the state, is going to help us alleviate suffering in this, what I call, the next pandemic, or the continuing pandemic, in terms of the opioid epidemic and behavioral health challenges,” he said.     

Tam says Beebe is looking into starting a mobile health unit that can visit patients where they live in the county’s more isolated, rural areas—a concept that was first piloted in Delaware by the University of Delaware and has also been used by ChristianaCare.

Deal agrees those services are “imperative” in southern Delaware.

“We would love to work with Beebe and other hospitals and health systems to increase the capacity for treatment,” she said.

Deal and Tam both agree more inpatient services are needed as well. Deal says Sun Behavioral’s inpatient unit for substance use disorder is at capacity at all times.

“We actually end up having to schedule admissions to get the patients in as quick as we can, because they’re just full,” said Deal.

Delaware saw a record 446 overdose deaths statewide last year according to the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

Tam also says psychiatry training is top of mind as the Beebe looks to roll out its planned residency program.

Both and Beebe and Bayhealth are recipients of three-year $750,000 federal grants to start doctor residency programs. Bayhealth recently announced its inaugural class of residents.

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