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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Psychiatric hospital forges partnerships amid shortage of mental health professionals

San Juan Capestrano Hospital System CEO Marta Rivera Plaza

By The Star Staff

The CEO of the San Juan Capestrano Hospital System called attention on Sunday to a shortage of qualified professionals to care for the increasing number of mental health patients following natural disasters that have plagued Puerto Rico along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks of Marta Rivera Plaza came amid news over the weekend that a 29-year-old woman allegedly suffering from postpartum depression has gone missing. Celivelys Rivera Santiago walked out of her residence in Canóvanas on Saturday after suffering an apparent episode of depression. Her whereabouts were unknown as of press time.

Rivera Plaza announced that the institution she directs has launched a series of workshops and conferences with the participation of her multidisciplinary team in search of partnerships with mental health professionals to care for people in need of clinical services, in particular given the lingering stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The institution developed the first Levels of Care in Mental Health Recovery Workshop in the southern region of Puerto Rico, which was led by Dr. Osvaldo Caro, a well-known expert in psychiatric medicine.

“In this first workshop, we discussed the central issue that concerns us at the moment, which is how can we attend to the largest number of patients, with the growing number of new cases and the decreasing number of mental health professionals that we no longer have available?” said Caro, a psychiatrist in the San Juan Capestrano Hospital System. “The health industry faces a great challenge, and mental health is not spared from that. The request for mental health services has increased dramatically after Hurricane Maria, the 2020 earthquake and the cruel COVID-19 pandemic. If we add to that the transfer of health professionals to other territories, then we are facing a challenge never before experienced in this country. To address all this, we have emphasized the coordination in continuity of treatment and community support systems. For this, it has been vital to strengthen the multidisciplinary teams in the partial clinics, which in many cases makes it possible to avoid hospitalizations, and offer specialized services, allowing the person to obtain first-class medical help while continuing their normal life.”

As part of the institution’s 35th anniversary celebration, the workshop included presentations on the benefits provided by structured programs designed for stress management, and how to overcome emotional and behavioral situations such as anxiety, depression and addiction to controlled substances. In partial clinics, group, individual and family therapies can be included, which represents an alternative of proven effectiveness.

“The main theme of this workshop was to present health services when the patient needs it,” Rivera Plaza said. “We worked on identifying the different models of care within the recovery process for a mental health patient. As part of the workshop, the characteristics and criteria for each level of patient care were presented. Attendees discussed the comparisons between the costs of services versus frequency of use in these models, focusing on identifying how to maximize the potential of the new models available for the benefit of the patient who needs attention and services in the area of mental health.”

Caro noted that “the partial clinics alternative consists of frequent visits of three to five days a week, at an average of three to four hours per day for a set period of time of four to six weeks.”

“The period of improvement depends on the need of the person requesting services,” he said. “These partial clinics are designed so that the patient continues to work or perform their normal tasks while receiving treatment. The great advantage of this alternative is that people have the support of the program along with other patients working with similar situations, which creates a dynamic environment with good results.”

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