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Letter to the Editor

Accessing mental health care in Fairbanks

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To the editor: Thank you to Melody Heath and Lane Delventhal for highlighting mental health needs in their July Fourth letter to the editor. I appreciate how frustrating it can be when staffing changes result in a change in therapist. I would like to provide some information about services at Alaska Behavioral Health.

Alaska Behavioral Health currently employs 16 therapists in Fairbanks, half serving adults and the other half serving children and families. While turnover is inevitable, we have grown our number of clinical staff significantly over the last two years, and plan to keep growing to meet community needs.

Last week, new clients in Fairbanks were able to schedule a first appointment within eight days. Clients may begin group services as soon as they have completed an intake. Individual therapy starts right away for those for whom group is not appropriate, and after the conclusion of group therapy for those who require additional services. This pilot program was started precisely so that clients would not have to wait to begin getting treatment. Evidence shows that group therapy is as effective as individual therapy for treating depression, and that many clients who initially said they preferred individual therapy changed their minds after attending group therapy.

We are excited to be partnering with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to bring the Crisis Now model to Fairbanks. This will improve access to services for some of the community’s most vulnerable residents — and reduce the use of police, fire and emergency room resources to address mental health crises.

We are also excited to begin offering adult mental health residential treatment services in Fairbanks starting in fall 2021. This will provide a level of care for folks who need a more structured environment and intensive services than outpatient care, but do not need hospital level care.

Through implementation of these new programs, we will continue to offer clinic-based services as we have been doing, with no reduction in services. Due to temporary staffing shortages, we do currently have a waitlist for new client appointments with our medical team and are working to resolve that as quickly as possible. For therapy appointments, we’ll be keeping a close watch on the “time to first appointment” metric to make sure our capacity is keeping up with the need in the Fairbanks area.

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