Administration to propose county mental health agency

August 02, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

After years of false starts, the county administration will introduce legislation tonight in the County Council that would create an agency to better coordinate mental health services.

If the council approves the bill, it would allow the county executive to create an independent core service agency to allocate nearly $7 million annually from the state Mental Hygiene Administration. The private, nonprofit agency also would be able to seek new funds through state, federal or private grants and create new programs and services.

Mental health advocates, who have lobbied for such an agency since 1989, say an independent panel could do a better job of providing quality care and monitoring mentally ill residents to ensure their needs are met.

In the past four years, 11 such agencies have been formed to serve 15 counties. Anne Arundel is the only "major county" in Maryland without one, said James Stockdill, deputy director of the Mental Hygiene Administration, which must approve the plans.

The county has submitted three proposals for a core service agency since 1990, all of which were approved by the state but never carried out, he said.

Counties with the agencies have won thousands of dollars in additional state and federal grants to run new programs, Mr. Stockdill said. But those without them have not done as well.

Mental health advocates have criticized county officials for dragging their feet on the agency, losing thousands of dollars in state aid that could have been used to better the lives of mentally ill residents.

"There are a lot of services that could be in place by now if we had the agency and the resources," said Lois Miller, executive director of Omni House, a community-based program for the mentally ill.

A study completed last year estimated that at least 8,300 seriously mentally ill people live in Anne Arundel County. And members of the local chapter of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI) say the number is probably much higher.

Thomas M. Schulz, local AMI president, said studies have shown the mentally ill make up about 5 percent of the population, meaning the county would have close to 22,000 mentally ill residents.

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