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Long wait times for mental health care persist two years into pandemic

Megan Zerez
Some patients, like Julia Calagiovanni, must travel to larger hospitals like St. Joseph’s in Elmira to get specialized mental health care.

Two years into the pandemic, mental health care is still hard to come by. Telemedicine has helped, but many people are still waiting months for an appointment.

Finding mental health care has been tough for people like Julia Calagiovanni. She moved to Ithaca last summer with her partner.

“Before moving here, a couple months in advance … I must have reached out to like, 50 people,” Calagiovanni said.

Calagiovanni said even with months of preparation, it’s only recently she was able to find the care she needed, even though she wasn’t able to find that care locally, in Ithaca. One of her providers is in Long Island and she has her appointments over telehealth.

“Telehealth really widens your net, but it would be good — if there were any local resources — it would be good to have a local clinician,” Calagiovanni said.

But Calagiovanni said some of her care can only happen in person. And for those treatments, there were no available providers in Ithaca. Calagiovanni must travel to clinics in Elmira and Syracuse instead.

Ithaca therapist Lex Enrico Santi said telehealth has definitely made things easier, though he said for some specialized care, there are still long wait times locally.

“To tell [potential patients], ‘You’re gonna have to wait half a year before you see [a therapist],’ is extremely challenging,” Santi said.

Santi said while many waitlists go back several months, they aren’t quite as long as they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

He has a few suggestions to help potential patients get mental health care sooner.

“Number one, go online. if you are in New York state, and you are comfortable with telehealth, this means you can essentially find a therapist anywhere in New York state,” Santi said.

Santi recommends using the database of providers on Psychology Today. And if you have insurance, you can also check with your insurance provider for a list of in-network clinicians.

He said if you can afford it, paying out of pocket can also help. Many smaller practices and independent providers don’t always take insurance.

And Santi said even if a therapist or psychiatrist isn’t taking new clients, many are happy to forward your information on to other providers who are.

If you or someone you know needs emotional support now, call New York Project Hope at 1-844-863-9314. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time at 1-800-273-8255.