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COVID-19 compounds backups on mental health therapy wait lists around Tulsa
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COVID-19 compounds backups on mental health therapy wait lists around Tulsa

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COVID-19 is backing up more than hospital beds.

Therapists have backlogs, too, as people try to cope with the disease’s mental health manifestations or trauma inflicted by the pandemic from loss or quarantine.

Dr. Scott Moseman, a psychiatrist at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital, said it’s not unusual for top therapists in Tulsa to have waiting lists. Now those waits are two to three times longer, he said.

“For people in crisis (this) creates more difficulty when they’re unable to get the help that they need,” Moseman said.

Moseman was a guest speaker Monday during Saint Francis Health Care System’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing. Moseman and Dr. Ondria Gleason, an OU-Tulsa psychiatrist, discussed how COVID can have mental health ramifications for patients in its acute and long-term phases, as well for people who are simply trying to handle living through a global pandemic.

And that pandemic has been particularly awful in Oklahoma during each surge, compared to the nation as a whole.

The state is in the red zone in the four primary metrics tracked by the federal government, with the state ranked third worst for new deaths and fifth worst for COVID hospital admissions, according to the latest data, released Friday.

Oklahoma’s weekly death rate is 6.0 per 100,000 individuals, which is 160% more than the national rate of 2.3. Its weekly COVID hospitalizations per 100 inpatient beds is 19.6, which is 69% higher than the U.S. rate of 11.6.

The state ranks No. 12 and No. 7 in new cases and test positivity, respectively.

Its weekly case rate was 416 per 100,000, which is 44% above the country’s rate of 288. The percentage of tests that were positive is 16.3%, 79% higher than the U.S. rate of 9.1%.

With specific regard to recovery from the disease, Gleason noted that OU-Tulsa most commonly sees individuals with anxiety, delirium or depression.

“Air hunger,” or COVID pneumonia, is one of the most difficult situations to observe in a person with anxiety, she said. They aren’t able to take deep breaths to lower their heart rate and blood pressure.

“These patients suffer kind of from almost a nonstop feeling of suffocation as their lungs are filled and the body’s trying to recover and medications are trying to take effect,” Gleason said. “They’re unable to take a deep breath like we all do periodically throughout the day.”

Delirium is a sudden change in attention or cognition, including disorientation or confusion, she said.

Patients also can develop visual or auditory hallucinations, she said, which can lead to delusion. If a patient is disoriented in the hospital and begins to believe they are at home, then the patient begins to wonder why people are in their room.

“That can cause agitation, and that’s something that we try to address because we don’t want patients to hurt themselves, to get up and fall or hurt somebody else while trying to protect themselves,” Gleason said.

Gleason said depression is especially a concern for COVID patients who have had a long, debilitating bout with the disease, such as weeks on a ventilator.

Patients often lose some physical strength and sometimes might not be able to walk afterward.

“It’s not always in just elderly patients. Sometimes we see this in middle-aged or younger,” Gleason said. “And then when they start coming about and they’re off the ventilator, now they’re having to deal with the fact that, ‘Wow, I’ve got a big disability I need to overcome.’”

Moseman said his practice at Laureate is seeing adolescents and families with incredible stress.

He said grade-school students should be able to do kid things: go to school, sleep, have friends and participate in activities they enjoy. If adults start to notice irritability, lack of enjoyment or declining grades, then they should seek help for their children.

“But even when families are getting help, I’m running into the fact that therapists and doctors are backed up just like ICUs and other kinds of things are,” Moseman said.

He said Laureate receives young patients from across the country for psychological and nutritional rehabilitation in its 15 beds.

It isn’t uncommon for the wait list to be 12 to 15 patients, he said. The list was 28 individuals long in April.

Moseman said the U.S. is in need of 20,000 child psychiatrists but has only 7,000 who are board certified.

“My hope is (that the pandemic) shines a light on things so that we recognize the physical and mental tolls so that we put more time, money and resources into mental health,” Moseman said.

Gleason recommended that individuals not glue themselves to the news 24/7 because it can become distressing to continually absorb issues that one can’t control.

She encouraged people to get outside because movement and exposure to green space do a lot for mental and physical health. People should talk about their feelings with people in their social circles who are supportive, she said, adding that they shouldn’t forget spirituality.

“Addressing physical health, mental health and spiritual issues — they all work together,” Gleason said.


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I am a general assignment reporter who predominately writes about public health, public safety and justice reform. I'm in journalism to help make this community, state, country and, ultimately, world a better place.

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