Mental health needs aid We read with interest Barry...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

March 17, 2001

Mental health needs aid

We read with interest Barry Rascovar's column "Maryland ignoring needs of mentally ill" (Opinion*Commentary, March 1). We wish blame for the system's current problems could be so easily attributed to a single entity.

The public mental health system's problems are quite complex. But, in fact, the Mental Hygiene Administration's (MHA) design for this system has attributes that are unique and innovative.

The Maryland system serves uninsured individuals, offers a range of comprehensive community-based services and has expanded the provider network. Under the leadership of Oscar Morgan, MHA has worked hard to ensure that services are accessible to many more Maryland citizens than ever before, especially previously under-served children.

Yet the MHA budget has been reduced approximately $20 million over the last three years

At a time when we know more about the efficacy of treatment than ever, it's imperative that the system's financial problems be overcome.

The first step would be to fund the system at the proper level and for the governor to restore the $20 million that has been reduced from MHA's budget. The next step would be to provide an additional $22 million to fully cover the mental health system's needs.

Mr. Rascovar also addressed the payment structure for the private psychiatric hospitals. This financial structure has been in place for many years, independent of the MHA, and needs to be revised.

If it is not, the responsibility for the acute and intermediate care these facilities provide will fall on an already overburdened state hospital system.

Maryland is blessed with outstanding programs, leaders and advocates. This collective commitment and wisdom needs support from all levels of government.

Stephen T. Baron and Herbert S. Cromwell, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, president of Baltimore Mental Health Systems Inc. and executive director Maryland Association of Psychiatric Support Services.

Walk into any mental health clinic in the state and you will likely see the same picture Barry Rascovar described in his column on Maryland's mental health system: Highly committed professionals serving profoundly ill individuals in programs that are overwhelmed and under-funded.

We agree with Mr. Rascovar that without significant reforms the system will indeed collapse.

The Maryland Council of Community Mental Health Programs (MCCMHP), a nonprofit organization of clinics, has a two-part reform proposal that could help avert this crisis.

First, we propose that the often contradictory regulatory and managed-care red tape overwhelming providers be reduced.

State regulations must be amended to reflect the managed-care environment in which clinics operate, Costly and complicated managed-care procedures must be streamlined. Our limited resources must be reserved for clinically productive activities.

Second, reimbursement rates, especially for children's services, must be increased at least 30 percent.

Reimbursement rates are lower than they were four years ago and providers lose more than $7 per service rendered. Reimbursement must cover the cost of care.

We urge Mental Hygiene Administration officials to adopt our recommendations immediately and the governor to stabilize this system by providing the necessary funds in his supplemental budget.

Richard Bayer and Phyllis S. Goldberg, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the president and executive director of the MCCMHP.

Take tourists beyond harbor

Surely the B&O Museum is a jewel in the crown of Baltimore, and the prospect of the 175th anniversary celebration of railroading is exciting ("City stoking the fires of B&O's celebration," Feb. 25).

But I fear that, unless a shuttle service is provided to move the tourists away from the Inner Harbor, the museum will continue to suffer from poor attendance.

The museum's literature boldly touts the "short" walk from the Inner Harbor to the Round House at Pratt and Poppleton streets. But it's 12 blocks. Few tourists we counsel at the Inner Harbor Visitors Center will make the effort.

Baltimore is blessed with historic venues spread out in all directions from the Inner Harbor.

To visit them, tourists pass through our neighborhoods. They see our city the way it should be seen, and they like what they see.

But if we expect tourists to walk from the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry or uphill to Mount. Vernon or to the B&O Museum and Mount Claire Mansion or the Blacks in Wax Museum or the zoo -- all jewels in the city's crown of tourism -- we expect too much.

Baltimore needs cheap, efficient shuttle service that will travel east-west between Mount Claire and Canton and north-south between Fort McHenry and Johns Hopkins University and beyond.

In addition to enhancing the historic flavor of the tourist experience, the shuttles would encourage visitors to take advantage of shops and restaurants outside the Inner Harbor and relieve that area's serious parking shortage.

Isaac C. Lycett, Baltimore

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