ANNAPOLIS – Maryland has consistently underestimated mental health funding and without a $26 million infusion immediately, services for the state’s most fragile population could shut down, a panel of public mental health care providers told the House Environmental Matters Committee Thursday.
“Organizations providing publicly funded mental health services in Maryland are in crisis,” said Craig Knoll, executive director of Threshold Services Inc. Threshold is a nonprofit healthcare provider with two clinics in Montgomery County in danger of closing by April.
“The crucial issue in Maryland is the underfunding of clinics,” he said. “There will not be any clinics left in Maryland if the state doesn’t start funding.”
Committee Chairman John Hurson, D-Montgomery, said the state’s mental health system has “reached meltdown.”
“This indicates to us that there is a serious, serious problem in the health care industry,” he said during the hearing.
Knoll blamed the problem on chronic underestimates of provider needs.
State fees only cover 84 percent of clinics’ expenses, he said. Medicare only reimburses 50 percent of its patients’ psychiatric bills. The total amount of money the clinics’ need to cover their deficit is about $26 million, he said.
“The governor’s budget does absolutely nothing to save Maryland’s clinics,” he said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s $22 billion operating budget contains little new funding and relies on a delaying a tax cut and draining cash reserves to close a nearly $1 billion budget gap.
However, Glendening’s budget does include more money for the mental health budget for fiscal year 2003, said Herb Cromwell, executive director of Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland. That budget includes about $21 million that will go toward the general fund to reduce the deficit and bring the base budget up to the level of demand, he said.
“We’re happy about it,” Cromwell said. “But what that doesn’t do is anything for the immediate crisis. Clinics and other programs will likely close without some kind of emergency relief now between now and July.”
For ReVisions Behavioral Health Systems in Catonsville, the current deficit could mean patients will be turned away, said Lori Doyle, ReVisions’ vice president.
“We do believe that our shop can be tightened up, and we are trying to do that,” Doyle said. But that also means about 15 percent of its caseloads would probably be turned away.
“Where will they go?” asked Environmental Matters Committee Chairman John Hurson.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“The problem is the issues just kind of keep going around and around and don’t seem to come to a bottom line in any point of time,” Doyle said. “We should be the canary in the mine shaft. If we’re still around in five to six months, perhaps that’s a good sign.”
Other mental health facilities already have closed. In Montgomery County, CPC Health Inc., the state’s then-largest provider of mental health services closed last year. Montgomery General Hospital is set to close its Silver Spring facility this month, according to information from Hurson’s office.
– 30- CNS-1-24-01