Yakima clinics add services to address mental health concerns brought on by COVID-19 pandemic

Community Health Of Central Washington

YAKIMA, Wash. — Community Health of Central Washington has opened a new psychiatric care department in response to what they say is an immediate need for more mental health care options during the pandemic.

In a news release, CHCW health officials said the isolation and unemployment that came with the COVID-19 shutdown added to residents’ existing stress, further straining their mental health.

Health officials said suicide rates in the Yakima Valley have increased by an estimated 30 percent during the pandemic and substance abuse is on the rise. Officials said  they’re worried about deteriorating mental health among individuals and families, particularly concerned those working in agriculture.

“Yakima Valley, and particularly its farmworker community, has been operating with limited psychiatric resources for an extended period, leaving some with prolonged suffering before being able to access a mental health prescriber,” the release said.

CHCW officials said they hope to fill that void with the new services, leading to shorter waits for appointments — two to three weeks versus months.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Melissa Helgeson has been hired to provide those services and set up the new department. She’ll be providing psychiatric care for several of CHCW’s clinics: Central Washington Family Medicine in Yakima, Yakima Pediatrics and the clinics in Naches and Ellensburg.

“Helgeson initially trained as a registered nurse and worked in mental health for years, strengthening assessment skills, care management and patient advocacy,” the release said. “She is specialized in caring for ‘treatment-resistant’ patients and is trained to manage complex combinations of medications helping her patients adjust their lifestyles to improve their health.”

Helgeson previously managed her own private nursing company and has more than 10 years of experience.

“My goal is to help individuals and families heal from abuse, depression, and trauma, by strengthening family bonds through therapy, diagnosis, medication management, consultations, referrals, and behavioral plans,” Helgeson said in the release. “Thus, providing the needed answers to families so that their healing can begin.”

Helgeson is currently available to see patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays at CHCW clinics. More information can be found here.