Don't let a bad actor diminish support for mental health and addiction services

November 08, 2010

Thanks to The Sun and reporter Scott Calvert for the investigative articles on Baltimore Behavioral Health (BBH) ("Hooked on treatment," Nov. 7 and "Sheltered addicts, strained recovery," Nov. 8). Funding for mental health and addiction services is never sufficient to meet the need. If stories such as these lead to more effective ways of ensuring that public dollars are spent wisely and properly, it will have done a valuable service both to Marylanders with behavioral health conditions and to the taxpayer.

The state's public mental health system today serves 117,000 children and adults, the addiction treatment system thousands more. Most services are delivered by mission-driven nonprofits that have independent, unpaid volunteer boards of directors. They are led by modestly paid managers who are committed to evidence-based treatment and rehabilitation programs that assist people with often disabling illnesses recover and participate fully in community life. Front line care is delivered by qualified clinicians and paraprofessionals who believe in what they do despite salaries that are typically far lower than those of employees in comparable public and private sector jobs.

Organizations and staff who do this work are governed by professional and ethical standards that promote quality and minimize waste, fraud and abuse. If a provider is misdiagnosing in order to maximize billing, it is not only flouting legal and ethical boundaries it is also draining precious resources from systems of care that are always struggling to keep up with demand.

One concern about the articles is that the alleged practices they cite, while far from the norm, will reduce public support for essential community-based behavioral health services that have endured five rounds of mid-year state budget cuts in the last two years alone. These safety-net services are cost-effective alternatives to institutional care, incarceration and homelessness. The fact is they need much more support, not less, and organizations such as ours will continue to work with state agencies and state officials to ensure they are provided by agencies worthy of that support.

Herbert S. Cromwell, Catonsville

The writer is executive director of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland.

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