Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Del Norte County has long had a lack of psychiatric services for the general, outpatient population, but soon Del Norte Community Health Center will have a full-time psychiatrist thanks to a grant from Sutter Coast Hospital.

Ample psychiatric services are available for prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison, and Del Norters with serious mental health disorders are serviced via video conferencing by a team of Fresno-based psychiatrists contracted by the county's mental health department.

But services for Del Norte's general population haven't compared.

"We have recognized the need for a psychiatrist in this area for a long time," said Cheyenne Spetzler, chief operations officer for Open Door Community Health Centers, the non-profit organization that operates Del Norte Community Health Center and seven other clinics in Humboldt County, in a press release.

Family physicians and physician's assistants prescribe psychiatric medication and treat mental health symptoms to an extent, "but it's just not their expertise," Spetzler said. Some mental health symptoms are harder to diagnose or require fine-tuning of medications that require a psychiatrist, Spetzler said.

In recent years, the Del Norte clinic was occasionally serviced by an Open Door psychiatrist based in Humboldt who would make the trip to Crescent City or see patients via tele-medicine (video conferencing).

Even that psychiatrist's limited ability to treat Del Norte patients with mental health problems disappeared more than a year ago, Spetzler said. With uncertainties surrounding Open Door's budget, the position was left unfilled and the need unmet, Spetzler said.

"The idea that Sutter Coast is helping us get our own psychiatrist is nothing short of a miracle," Spetzler said.

When Sutter Coast approached Open Door about using grant funding to bring in a full-time psychiatrist, "We were just jumping for joy," said Spetzler.

Coming from Sutter Coast's community benefit budget, the hospital provided $100,000 to the Del Norte clinic to offset the costs of recruitment and salary in the first year. Sutter Coast has also said it will provide up to $100,000 a year in both 2014 and 2015 for the psychiatrist's salary.

As a federally qualified facility, the Del Norte clinic can employ a psychiatrist, which the hospital cannot do, said Beth Liles, Sutter Coast's director of philanthropy, communication and public relations.

Open Door has already started advertising the position, but it's hard to say when the Del Norte Community Health Center will have a new psychiatrist.

"Psychiatrists are hard to recruit anywhere and anyone is hard to recruit for Del Norte, because it's a little more remote," Spetzler said.

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