When Dr. Bob Sammons is having a tough day, he likes to pull out a box of thank-you notes he’s received over the years from his psychiatric patients and remember all the people he’s helped throughout the past three decades.
It usually raises his spirits, especially when treating some patients who have a low chance of seeing any impacts from the medication he prescribes.
“I’ve lived my life taking care of people who only have a 7% chance of getting better when they come to see me,” Sammons said, referencing the odds of finding a suitable prescription after a patient has already failed to respond to four other medications.
Sammons has treated hundreds of patients in the past 31 years in Grand Junction, but he’s decided to adjust his course as he winds down his career. He will shutter his psychiatric practice today and focus on his role as medical director of TMS Solutions, which offers a newer form of therapy for psychiatric patients.
His departure also further exacerbates a shortage of psychiatric doctors in the Grand Valley and across the country. In Grand Junction, he is one of the last independent outpatient psychiatrists practicing.
Sammons is referring his patients to some local nurse practitioners who focus on psychiatry as well as doctors at Mind Springs Health. Mind Springs Executive Vice President Michelle Hoy said the organization is working closely with Sammons to get his patients set up with their doctors. Some of the more stable patients may return to a primary care doctor who can continue to prescribe their medications.
“We very much appreciated Dr. Sammons coming and talking to us,” she said.
Mind Springs employs 20 doctors who can prescribe psychiatric medication and provide outpatient services throughout the 10 counties it serves in western Colorado. All providers are available in Grand Junction either in person or through telehealth.
Sammons will still assist those in need of psychiatric help through the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The treatment, which has been progressing over the past decade, uses a device that is geared to help stimulate normal brain function for patients who have not had success with other treatments for depression.
“This is a portion of the future of medicine in psychiatry,” he said.
Sammons has offered TMS treatment in addition to his psychiatric practice for the past few years, but said that the growth of TMS means that he could no longer devote his full attention to both TMS and the psychiatric practice.
TMS is effective in roughly 80% of patients, he said. The treatment includes placing a device on the patient’s head that sends magnetic pulses to the brain over the course of a session.
“It’s like going to a gym,” Sammons said. “It strengthens that connection.”
Hoy said she is familiar with the concept and is glad there is another option for local patients in need of treatment.
“It is an emerging practice and one that is showing some evidence of helping people who might not see a benefit from other treatments,” she said. “I think as science evolves, we find more and more treatments that work for certain people. It’s important to have tools.”
Both Sammons and Hoy noted shortages nationally and worldwide in new psychiatrists, which Sammons attributed to lower pay compared to other specialties and the different approach needed compared to other areas of focus.
Hoy said that despite seeing fewer providers, there are still options for people in Mesa County who need psychiatric help.
“There is access to care, there is help, there are services,” she said. “We are here, we care and can help if they need.”