Agreement seen as close on help for Omni House

Anne Arundel, state negotiating amount

February 15, 2002|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

State and Anne Arundel County officials reached a tentative agreement yesterday to provide emergency funding to Omni House, a Glen Burnie mental health provider that is one of many throughout Maryland reeling from the state's mental health crisis.

Under the arrangement - the details of which are being worked out - the county agency that oversees and monitors public mental health service would provide the clinic with a grant to remain open for at least the next few months, the agency's director said.

Frank A. Sullivan, executive director of the county's Core Services Agency, said that he could not discuss the grant amount because he and state Mental Hygiene Administration officials are negotiating the final figure.

"I'm happy we're being listened to, and I think we're going to get some help," said Lois Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Omni House. "It's still tenuous, and we don't know what the bottom line is, but we're very happy to be at the table talking."

Financial pressures forced Omni House - a mental health provider in Anne Arundel County for 20 years - to close its clinic for children and adolescents two months ago, as well as its substance abuse clinic. The closures affected 240 patients.

Omni House is seeking the grant to maintain its outpatient mental health clinic and psychiatric rehabilitation services.

Miller said she was uncertain whether the substance abuse clinic and the services for children and adolescents would reopen.

Community-based mental health providers statewide are trying to cope with a $21 million deficit in the mental health system and administrative problems. Eleven clinics have closed, including two last year in Anne Arundel.

Miller said that while she's hoping for the emergency money, she also would like to see a long-term solution to mental health funding.

"The basic problem is that the system is underfunded," she said. "And until we get more money, it's like putting a finger in the dike."

As state officials and legislators work to address the problems, private providers are seeking cash infusions to stay afloat until the state's new fiscal year begins in July, Sullivan said.

Providers say problems in the have been building since 1997 when the state moved to a new system of delivering mental health services. The Mental Hygiene Administration adopted a policy in which clinics were reimbursed each patient - a system that providers say led to denials of service and delays in insurance payments.

Previously, many clinics received lump sum state grants.

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