Commissioners reverse themselves to approve agency for the mentally ill

February 16, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll commissioners have approved forming an agency to coordinate local services for the mentally ill, reversing their initial decision to reject the recommendation of the county's Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee.

The commissioners changed their minds after learning that the county may have lost funds for housing the mentally ill because it doesn't have a "core service agency."

"That's the thing that really made us change our mind," said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy. "I can't afford to endanger county funds in these hard times."

Core service agencies are endorsed and funded by the state Mental Health Administration. State mental health officials say establishment of CSAs is part of an effort to decentralize decisions about local mental health services.

The situation that caught the commissioners' attention involved Granite House, a private, nonprofit residential program for the mentally ill.

Last fall Spencer Gear -- the director of Granite House and a member of the Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee -- learned of federal housing money available for the mentally ill and wanted to apply for a $50,000 grant. Because Carroll doesn't have its own CSA, which would have handled grant applications, Granite House had to rely on the Mental Health Administration to seek the funds.

"The state doesn't have the time to do little procurement bids like that," Mr. Gear said. As a result, Granite House couldn't compete for the grant money.

He said other counties that have CSAs had a better chance of getting the housing money because local agencies can be more aggressive in going after funding.

Mr. Gear said he's pleased that the commissioners decided to approve the concept.

"We're impressed that the commissioners changed their minds and that they had the gumption to reconsider," he said.

State health officials would like to see agencies in all counties by 1995. Under state guidelines, CSAs are responsible for allocating all state and county money for mental health programs in each jurisdiction.

A CSA must be endorsed by the local government. The agency jTC can be set up within the county's health department, as a public agency within another department or as private, nonprofit agency.

After studying other CSAs throughout the state for more than a year, members of the Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee recommended that Carroll's CSA be a private, nonprofit model.

Committee members said that kind of agency would be more flexible in creating services and pursuing funding.

However, the commissioners disagree. As a condition of their approval of a CSA, the agency must be created within the county's health department.

"The feeling is there would be no added personnel to handle," Mr. Lippy said.

Putting the CSA within the health department raises concerns for Mr. Gear.

"I think there is a danger that if it [the CSA] is not done right, it will become a bureaucracy," he said.

"I personally believe the best system possible is a nonprofit structure."

The Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee plans to work with the county's health officer to develop a CSA plan to submit to the Mental Health Administration.

Currently, 12 core service agencies operate in Maryland serving 15 counties and Baltimore. One of the agencies serves five Eastern Shore counties.

Besides Carroll, the counties that don't have CSAs are Howard, Harford, Garrett and Frederick.

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