Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
FILE - Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, speaks during the Utah Taxpayers Association 2018 Legislative Outlook Conference, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Salt Lake City. HB174, sponsored by Eliason, would increase the number of residencies by four and aspires to ramp up 16 additional residents across four cohorts.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Sandy Republican lawmaker is seeking funding to increase the number of psychiatry residencies offered by University of Utah Health Sciences.

HB174, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, would increase the number of residencies by four and aspires to ramp up 16 additional residents across four cohorts.

"We are near the bottom in the nation for psychiatrists per capita. This bill would fund four new residencies on an ongoing basis for psychiatrists at the University of Utah," Eliason told the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this week.

Dr. Doug Gray, U. professor of psychiatry and education director for medical students and residents in psychiatry, said a bottleneck exists because "there's getting to be more medical students than there are residency spots."

Last year, 14 percent of medical students who applied for psychiatry programs did not get a psychiatry residency, he said. They may be training in some other residency or conducting research for a year before reapplying "but there's this huge bottleneck."

University of Utah Heath serves patients regionally. "So we're really serving a large catchment area and we're always really short of psychiatrists. There's always long waiting lists. Cakes are coming off the conveyor belt faster than we can catch them. We need more people to catch those cakes," he said.

There is a growing demand for psychiatrists because "we're moving into primary care, we're doing mental health integration and taking care of patients in their primary care clinics," Gray said.

That reduces overall medical costs but it requires more psychiatrists.

Adding four residencies would cost about $400,000 a year or $100,000 per resident, according to the bill.

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The good news is, "lots of great medical students are interested in psychiatry. If you get into our psychiatry program in Utah, we have an 88 percent retention rate. They stay in Utah," Gray said.

The retention rate is even higher for child psychiatry residents, 92 percent, he said.

There are 900 applications for nine residencies "and this would increase it by four," Eliason said.

"This is a small step and I believe a critical component in addressing the upstream problems we have related to behavioral health care and ultimately reducing suicide in this state," he said.