WESTMINISTER — WESTMINSTER -- People who seek help and information about mental illness and addictions usually don't do so until there's a crisis, said Janice Becker of Berrett, a member of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
That could be one reason so few people turned out for a forum conducted Monday by the Mental Health and Addictions bureaus of the state Department of Health.
Howard Held, director of the Mental Health Bureau, and Jo Riley-Kauer, director of the Addictions Bureau, organized the event to let people know what their departments offer, and to give the public a chance to ask questions or complain, they said. They said they plan to conduct the forum annually.
But few people made comments. At least four of the 16 people attending were on the Mental Health, Drug Abuse and Alcoholism Advisory Board, which includes representatives of public and private agencies, clergy and advocacy groups. Others present at the forum, conducted at the county Health Department's auditorium in Westminster, included people already involved with mental health and addictions agencies.
Becker, of Berrett, is an advocate representative of the advisory board, which meets monthly and advises the County Commissioners. She focused on mental health advocacy several years ago, when her daughter became ill with schizophrenia, she said.
After the forum, Becker said most people don't know where to look for help if a loved one becomes mentally ill.
"Usually the only way is through some kind of crisis, and they call the police," Becker said.
She said people can call the Mental Health Bureau or go to a private therapist if their insurance covers it. People can also go to a hospital such as Carroll County General first for some kind of medical care, Becker said.
Becker said she and other members of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill -- which has national, state and local offices -- do not provide services but will tell people where they can get it. Becker is available at home at 795-2455.
"We don't get calls because they're curious," she said of people who call her now. "We get calls because they're in crisis.
At the forum, Held said his department charges based on what people can afford, but said he does not insist on a fee if it seems to stand in the way of the person seeking help.
"I literally never said no to any people," Held said.
Held said his bureau can bill insurance, and some insured people go to him because they can't afford the deductible or co-payment required with a private therapist.
In the Addictions Bureau, most patients are sent by the courts, police, Alcoholics Anonymous and other such groups, hospitals or relatives, Riley-Kauer said.
She said state budget cuts are threatening the expansion of the addictions program, which includes the county's first detoxification program, at Shoemaker Center.
The current hiring freeze, she said, was implemented just as she was building staff for the newly opened Shoemaker Center, and so three of the 14 beds there must remain vacant because she is short of nurses and other professionals.
The expansion resulted in the new detoxification center, an increase to 32 beds in the 30-day program in Sykesville, and 50 beds in the long-term program for people with chronic abuse problems.
The freeze and proposed cuts would eliminate 10 beds at the long-term program and 12 beds in the 30-day program. Combined with the three empty beds at Shoemaker, the cut comes to 25 beds, which is what was to added in the expansion, Riley-Kauer said.
The program also offers outpatient services at the Health Department office in Eldersburg and at Main Street Exchange in Westminster. Plans are to open centers in Taneytown by 1992 and in Hampstead or Manchester by 1994, Riley-Kauer said.
The goal of having several centers can eliminate the transportation problem some outpatients have, Riley-Kauer said.
"Most of my patients come to us through drinking and driving, so we don't urge them to drive (to appointments)."