Charting a New Path for Mental Health in Howard County
- In 2013 nearly 1,300 students attempted suicide in Howard County, according to an estimate by the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center;
- In the four-year period ending in 2012, 70 adults and children took their own lives in Howard County, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene;
- In 2013 there were 2,431 visits by mental health practitioners to inmates at the correctional facilities operated by the county, according to the Howard County Department of Corrections’ Annual Report.
Yet, the County only spends approximately $600,000, or $2.00 per person, on mental health-related services. Other counties like Anne Arundel, Harford, and Frederick spend 4 to 5 times more per person.
Further, the County’s budget for mental health services has only grown $30,000 over the last 7 years.
Up until now, we have taken mostly a reactive approach to mental health; in other words, only after a crisis strikes an individual, a family, or the community at large do we take action. Howard County should have a service system that is responsive to the front-end needs of the mentally ill in Howard County.
As County Executive, I will work with government officials, mental health care professionals, our world-class hospitals and schools, our nonprofit community, law enforcement officials, and, very importantly, our families, to develop the most comprehensive needs assessment on mental health ever conducted in any jurisdiction in Maryland.
The needs assessment will identify the availability of mental health treatment resources, access to these resources, and insurance coverage. It will also address the long-standing call for a full and easily accessible resource inventory of available services.
Finally, it will answer the question, “What legal protections must be in place to ensure our court system can refer mentally ill individuals who commit crimes to the most appropriate treatment setting?” A Mental Health Court could serve as the catalyst to answer this question, and address the needs of those who commit crimes because of mental illness.
The outcome of the needs assessment will be a blueprint for a proactive and interconnected network of supports for the mentally ill that produce better health outcomes. Together, we must address the causes of mental illness, not just react to the symptoms.
This approach must, first and foremost, help us be preventative. We can then work to erase the stigma associated with mental illness and create a more informed and tolerant community. Most importantly, it will help us avoid the crises and tragedies we have seen all too often.
We will focus our research around a specific set of public policy options:
Improve Access to Treatment
- Expand early childhood education programs for parents
- Review the capabilities of urgent care centers and any service and capacity gaps
- Incentivize mental health professionals to accept Medicare for community mental health services
- Create a referral hotline and single point of entry for mental health and substance abuse issues
- Increase the county’s level of financial support to grow the number of community providers that serve transitioning youth, the foreign born, people with disabilities, among others
- Integrate our transit system for low-income individuals (HATS) with the needs assessment
Reform Our Criminal Justice System so It Can Appropriately Respond to Persons with Mental Health Issues Who Commit Crimes
- Assess collaboration level among law enforcement, social services, education, health professionals
- Identify a government agency that will be responsible for monitoring and assessing what community based resources are needed for individuals with mental illness
- Make Howard County eligible for federal funds to establish or expand diversion programs
Identify service gaps that individuals with mental illness need to live in the community
- Rehabilitate, not incarcerate, individuals with mental illness
- Enable people to remain healthy, law-abiding members of the community
- Create a shared vision among judges, state’s attorneys, public and private defenders
- Study the feasibility of establishing a Mental Health Court
Build and Grow Partnerships
- Build on the important work done by Howard County’s Mental Health Authority, NAMI, MCF, Healthy Howard, the newly established Mental Health Task Force
- Expand training for first responders and other public service professionals
- Work with HCPSS to incorporate behavioral health education into school curriculum
- Develop a data sharing mechanism between hospitals and the mental health community
- Make mental health education a component of all service organizations in Howard County
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