San Antonio psychiatric, substance abuse treatment center deals with surge of admissions

Laurel Ridge Treatment Center’s CEO said they are at or near capacity at any given time

SAN ANTONIO – Laurel Ridge Treatment Center is dealing with a surge of admissions and is attributing the increase in mental health needs in the community to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID 19 serves as a black swan event for mental health. We’ve had a lot of psychological -- direct or indirect psychological impacts from COVID 19, meaning the social isolation. The economic impacts of the pandemic are causing a rise in anxiety and stress in the community,” said Jacob Cuellar, CEO of Laurel Ridge Treatment Center. “We saw three times the rate of increase in depression. We’ve seen about a 30% increase in anxiety-related disorders and a very significant increase in what we call deaths from despair.”

Cuellar said that Laurel Ridge Treatment Center opened a new hospital across the street from its facility last year.

“We saw several indicators that were just going to suggest that we’re going to have an elevation in the need for behavioral health care treatment. And so we opened our new hospital in October of last year, and it’s at full capacity,” Cuellar said.

Cuellar said the facility is at or near capacity at any given time.

“Within our admissions department, it’s almost like a fully busy emergency department. And so we do have individuals who are waiting and pending a bed for placement,” Cuellar said.

The facility hired about 100 staff members to help with the influx of patients.

“We’re currently treating upwards of 300 patients in an inpatient setting and another about 150 in our other lower levels of care. So any given day, we’re treating a good 400 patients who are suffering from mental illness,” Cuellar said.

Shawn Coughlin, the president and CEO of the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, said facilities across the country face several issues, including workforce shortages.

“There is clearly an increased demand and need for our services, and it’s absolutely running headfirst into these workforce issues,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin said it’s been challenging for people seeking services.

“People need access to these services, and we’re finding they’re just being delayed or cannot find those or cannot find access,” Coughlin said.

Laurel Ridge Treatment Center says it’s working with state government officials and health care providers to see how it can build up its capacity.

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Tiffany Huertas is known for her in-depth storytelling and her involvement with the community.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.