Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

A Belated Memorial: Bye Bye to Cedars Psychiatry Training Program

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 18, 2013

I am reminded today of a major closure of an adult psychiatric residency and a child psychiatry fellowship in my town. Although this closure happened over a year ago, the ripples are still important. Less psychiatrists will be trained in the United States, and patients in Los Angeles will have fewer mental health resources to access. The sadness around this closure is enormous, both for the faculty, the graduates, and what, were at the time, current trainees. The reason for this closure is confusing, at least to me, but I can assume, there were large financial concerns, anticipating the change in reimbursement from Medicare, which funds a good percentage of Graduate Medical Education (GME). Once again, I surmise that the death of this program suggests that psychiatry is losing it’s place in medicine. I should add that Cedars-Sinai has maintained a Consultation-Liaison service and an Addiction Medicine service, but these are run by trained physicians, and so Cedars-Sinai is no longer giving birth to new and well-trained psychiatrists.

I wonder to myself why I did not blog about this major Los Angeles mental health event last year, and with wild speculation, I think it was just too painful. I know too many faculty members who lost their class, and I know too many patients who have difficult choices about how to continue their care. I also worry that this closure speaks to my broader concern that medicine is so focused on outcome measures, that psychiatry, with few good outcome measures, will deteriorate to a specialty that medical students will not see as desirable, and patients will not feel the freedom to access.

What does it mean that a major Los Angeles medical center closed their psychiatry department, with the exception, as mentioned of consultation-liaison and addiction? I think it means that specialties with machines, good metrics, will flourish, whereas specialties that want to sit with patients through their struggles will flounder. I know that there will always be room for people who want to comfort the mentally and physically ill, but my concern is that these professionals need to be well trained in body, mind and soul. Their training needs to be accessible and it needs to be able to ultimately pay off their massive debts. Should Medicare change their funding of GME, then it is possible that other psychiatric training programs will also close their doors. Psychiatry, simply put, does not pay for itself. It requires government assistance to keep these training programs alive.

The withdrawal of this assistance, might seem like a reasonable choice, given the expense of health care, but, on the other hand, does the apparent rise in these gun massacres, have anything to do with the diminishing psychiatric resources? If there were a connection, would this justify having the government supplement more psychiatric residencies and child psychiatry fellowships? Would more psychiatrists diminish the excessive use of medical resources to evaluate and treat psychosomatic disorders? I think so, but I have no data to back me up. The longitudinal studies needed to get this data are enormous. Should we, as a society, have to wait, or should we use our intuition? If your husband, or wife, or mother, was killed by Aaron Alexis, maybe the argument would feel stronger? Sure, maybe he would never have sought treatment and the same tragedy would have happened, but every time there is a reduction of services, we have to think about the unintended consequences. 

4 Responses to “A Belated Memorial: Bye Bye to Cedars Psychiatry Training Program”

  1. Shelly said

    Ok, but what about the Ft. Hood shooter…a trained psychiatrist on the US’s dime? Aaron Alexis had access to military psychiatrists, did he not? I don’t see how the closure of CS’s psychiatric residency program could possibly have had any impact on these government provided medical professionals. I do agree that the closure of one residency program in LA means less trained professionals and thereby mass shooters have less places to turn for help. However, it’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination to link the two…at least in my mind.

    • Yes, I agree that it is a stretch to link the closure of a psychiatric residency to untreated mental illness, but I wanted to illustrate that with fewer resources, both in closing the clinic and eliminating training spots for psychiatrists, there could be a public health hazard. On the other hand, I certainly agree that not all of the violently mentally ill are open to intervention. Of course, most of the mentally ill are non-violent, and so their suffering is often not seen. Thanks.

  2. Giji Fung said

    The CS Medical Center had a very good mental health clinician, I missed him dearly as he had helped my friend who went through divorce and myself with job and relationship issues. He spent good amount of time but even at the first visit, he seems to know me well. I was going into a healing path without a pill. Nowadays, it is very hard to find this type of clinician and facilities. I am currently in the hand of a big box medical group whose psychiatrist charging me over $100 for a 10 minutes visit just switching my pills every 3 months. He does not even give me eye contacts, ask if I cried my eyes out or even worst.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: