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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Psychiatrist to retire

Shasta, ,U.S.A : Pai's departure leaves county with three positions to fill

At least temporarily, Shasta County will soon have only one full-time psychiatrist to serve its nearly 2,500 adult and 600 youth patients.

Dr. Aravind Pai, the county's chief psychiatrist, is retiring this week after nearly 29 years. His departure leaves the county all the more shorthanded as it tries to fill three vacant psychiatrists' positions.

The Department of Mental Health is in talks with doctors to fill two of the positions, and child psychiatrist Dr. Okechukwu Nwangburuka may return soon from a six-month leave of absence, director Mark Montgomery said Tuesday.

As it stands, senior psychiatrist Dr. Richard Zarriello is joined only by a 25-hour-a-week child psychiatrist doing telemedicine from Sacramento, and Pai will see elderly patients on an extra-help basis a couple of days a week, Montgomery said.

"It's difficult," Montgomery said, adding he hopes to fill two of the vacancies by mid-July. "It's a real challenge to try and recruit psychiatrists in the state."

Prisons and the state mental hospital have recently boosted the salaries of psychiatrists, making it more difficult for counties to attract doctors with competitive wages, he said.

The county's shortage comes as Shasta Community Health Center in April fired one of its two psychiatrists, Dr. Lynne Pappas, and referred many of her patients to the county.

Chief executive officer Dean Germano said in early May the clinic was trying to recruit more psychiatrists and planned to contract temporarily with a teen-adult psychiatrist to help with the workload. Neither he nor chief operating officer Robin Glasco returned calls Tuesday seeking comment.

The shortage of psychiatrists comes after the county last year eliminated seven of its 10 psychologists' positions to cut costs. Supervisors agreed in February to spend as much as $280,000 per fiscal year for the temporary services of psychiatrists through the Georgia-based Jackson & Coker Locumtenens LLC. That contract runs through June 2008.

The shortage concerns Marge Hall, Shasta County chapter president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"I think it's tragic because now we're down to one psychiatrist when at one time we had eight," Hall said Tuesday. "It's pretty sad. It's like things are going backward instead of forward."

Pai retires as the county's highest paid employee, making $187,678 a year. Zarriello takes home $181,364 annually. Eventually, one of the four psychiatrists -- Zarriello, Nwangburuka or one of the two new doctors -- will be appointed as chief, Montgomery said.

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