Santa Cruz County has been turning to psychiatrists who take temporary assignments to fill gaps left by those on staff who retired or left for private practice.Really? Is it hard to find child psychiatrists? It seems like a trivial specialty to me.
The shortage of psychiatrists means patients with mental issues must wait for an appointment.
"It takes two months to get the evaluation scheduled," said Dr. Patrick Teverbaugh, a psychiatrist who has worked for the county for 21 years. "There's this incredible turnover, which is not the best psychiatric care to change one's doctor every few months."
Nine doctors -- six psychiatrists and three physicians -- have left since 2011, according to the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, which negotiated a one-year contract that expired in November.
Talks reached an impasse in May and mediation is planned for this month.
The sides are at odds over pay and benefits.
The psychiatrists and physicians are asking for a cost-of-living increase and a retiree health stipend the same as other county retirees.
According to Teverbaugh, physicians voluntarily lowered their retiree health stipend 10 years ago in order to offer a pay differential for a child psychiatrist, which he called a "rare" specialty.
She said the median salary for a psychiatrist in Santa Cruz County is slightly less than $220,000, citing figures from Salary.com.They are making a lot of money to be complaining. But then so are the BART workers.
If the comparison is narrowed to psychiatrists in the public sector, Santa Cruz fares well, according to county personnel director Michael McDougall.
He said a January survey found Santa Cruz County pays psychiatrists 1 percent over market compared to eight Bay Area county governments.
"We compensate at a higher rate than all of them except Santa Clara (County)," he said.
The 2012 Santa Cruz County government pay database shows one psychiatrist earned $239,000, with six earning $147,000 to $208,000.