WASHINGTON – Maryland’s mental health care system is an “underachiever,” but still performing well above the national average, according to a report released Wednesday by a national mental health organization.
“The state has a lot going for it, but can do better. There also are warning signs of a downward slide,” said the report by The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which awarded Maryland a C+. That grade is above the nation’s D grade.
“It doesn’t surprise me that our state got a C+ and that that was one of the better grades,” said Linda Raines, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Maryland. Maryland’s chief obstacle to a better score, she said, is a lack of funding.
Placement of the mentally ill is another significant problem, the report pointed out.
“What is happening is that the emergency rooms have become the focus point for service. (Mentally ill patients) end up in places where they shouldn’t be, places that are costly to the state and inappropriate to the individual,” said Abigail Graf, NAMI policy research manager, who authored the Maryland section of the report. “When people fall through the cracks, other systems pick them up,” Graf said.
“There is a bottleneck in emergency rooms as far as getting psychiatric patients treated,” said NAMI Maryland Executive Director Barbara Bellack. Patients can wait up to three days for treatment, according to the report.
J. Edward Jones, NAMI Prince George’s County president, agreed that “just getting timely care,” is an important issue for mentally ill Maryland residents.
“The system is not geared to the needs of the consumer,” Jones said.
Patients with psychiatric complaints visiting Maryland emergency rooms increased 4.3 percent — 82,000 visits — according to a study by the Maryland Hospital Association.
The University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore is trying to create some crisis beds to help alleviate overcrowding, according to Ben Borja, medical director for Psychiatric Emergency Services.
“Sometimes they need a very short stay, a little bit of structure,” he said. “It costs a lot.”
The report was based on self-reported questionnaires from state mental health authorities, consumer interviews and public documents including state reports and newspaper articles. Each state was graded on 39 criteria, ranging from accessibility to benefit information to whether it charged outpatients co-payments.
Despite the average grade, Borja remains upbeat about Maryland’s mental health care system, saying, “I’m optimistic.”
Capital News Service reporter Kara Wedekind also contributed to this report.