Red Tape and Mental Illnes

October 22, 1991

An interesting but little-known experiment in cutting red tape is being conducted in Baltimore: a private group, supported by foundation money, has assumed the role of the central mental health authority for adults in the city. In serving as a planning agency and coordinator of various city and state programs, the Baltimore Mental Health Systems is developing an innovative administrative model that could be copied throughout Maryland.

Dr. Miles F. Shore has been monitoring the experiment as a director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is sponsoring similar projects in eight other cities, from Honolulu to Philadelphia. "What we have here is a success story," the Harvard professor says of the Baltimore effort. "In the health field, this is an Inner Harbor development."

In its pilot program, the Baltimore Mental Health Systems took a fragmented network of seven community health centers in the city and wove them into a comprehensive entity. The goal is to establish a 24-hour-a-day crisis center for treating the mentally ill, reduce the number of psychiatric emergency-room cases in the city, encourage treatment and rehabilitation in home-like residential settings and create a data bank on users of mental health services.

Most of those goals are being met. The results are so interesting that the sponsoring Johnson foundation has decided to hold a national meeting in Baltimore Nov. 7-8 to showcase the program.

Mental illness is a malaise that touches one out of every four families in Maryland. Some victims receive appropriate treatment, many do not. "We have more people in jail who suffer from mental illness than we possibly have in state institutions," says Marcia G. Pines, who heads the Baltimore Mental Health Systems. Programs like hers give hope that red tape and other barriers to proper treatment can be removed and those needing help can find it.

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