Funding for drug centers falls short

Working to find $1 million to plug gap, mayor says

June 03, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Nine Baltimore drug treatment centers have been notified that they will lose funding for 260 outpatient slots at the end of the month if the city cannot find an estimated $1 million to pay for them.

Letters notifying the drug rehabilitation centers of the budget shortfall arrived Thursday, surprising treatment advocates in a city with an estimated 60,000 addicts, one of the largest such populations in the nation.

"How can this happen in a city whose number-one public health and public safety concern is addiction?" said Ann T. Ciekot, director of advocacy for the Maryland chapter of the National Council On Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc.

"The last thing we expected to hear was that the city would reduce funding for treatment."

Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that the funding problem occurred because of the expiration of a three-year city grant program initiated by former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

O'Malley said the city is attempting to locate money necessary to keep the treatment slots running into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"I think she's been rather alarmist," O'Malley said of Ciekot. "Give us a week or two and then her outrage may be warranted."

But the funding crisis caught drug treatment advocates off guard because O'Malley has made drug treatment a high priority for his administration and earlier this year asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening for $25 million in additional treatment money.

`Woefully inadequate'

Glendening and the General Assembly dedicated $8 million of the $25 million requested to help the city. That amount, which city Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson complained was "woefully inadequate," will be dedicated for the city's key treatment need - long-term, inpatient care.

Leaders of Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc., which coordinates 35 city drug treatment centers that receive public funding, said yesterday that it was required to give the treatment centers 30 days' notice about the city funding shortfall.

Ciekot estimated that 20 counselors would lose their jobs if the money isn't found.

One of the treatment centers that would lose an estimated 100 slots as a result of the grant expiration is Echo House, two blocks away from "The Corner" at West Fayette and North Monroe streets, a neighborhood recently the subject of an HBO series on the plague of urban drug addiction.

The outpatient money was part of a three-year, $5.7 million grant program known as "the mayor's initiative" started by Schmoke and his housing commissioner, Daniel P. Henson III.

The program expires June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Henson dedicated city housing money to the treatment centers, hoping to aid addicted public housing residents.

City housing officials said yesterday that treatment advocates knew the grant program was not set up to extend past the three-year period. O'Malley plans to meet with housing officials Tuesday to look for the money to keep the slots open.

City Housing Commissioner Patricia J. Payne is looking to federal Community Development Block Grant program as a possible source, O'Malley said. The city receives about $30 million annually from the federal government for community programs, the largest single grant Baltimore receives.

The problem, O'Malley said, is that two-thirds of the grant money is already dedicated to pay off the demolition and rebuilding of Baltimore's high-rise public housing projects. That leaves about $10 million available for 300 community agencies seeking funding, he said.

The city is spending about $30 million on drug treatment, the majority for 6,500 inpatient treatment slots.

Janice Lockwood, executive director of Echo House Multiservice Center at 1705 W. Lafayette Ave., said the $180,000 her agency has received from the city initiative over the past two years has been used to help 87 patients.

Program success

Lockwood estimated that 48 clients completed the program successfully, and 70 percent of them found jobs. The facility also offers literacy, behavior and job skills training.

"We'll lose quite a bit of staff, and it was an excellent program," Lockwood said. "That particular grant gave a lot of clients hope."

One consultant who is studying drug abuse and treatment in Baltimore said the funding crisis for the outpatient beds is regrettable but does not signal a reversal of the city's treatment expansion.

"You don't want to see $1 million go away, but there's still a net gain with $8 million more from the state," said John M. Walsh of Drug Strategies, a nonprofit think tank in Washington.

"The larger context is that the mayor has been an outspoken advocate for more and better treatment."

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