Don't allow state's mental health network to sink into mediocrity

March 29, 2011

I am the current president of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland (CBH), a group of long established, mission-driven providers of community mental health care to the poorest and neediest Maryland citizens. I was pleased to read your editorial comment ("The General Assembly's to-do list," March 27 ) supporting an increase in alcohol tax.

You note — correctly — that the dime-a drink proposal was to provide funds for mental health care; however, the bill on the table now — SB 994 — raises less money, raises it more slowly, and, most importantly, does not fund those distressed though deserving programs.

Maryland's community mental health providers are at a fragile point. It's worth noting that Maryland was one of four states getting a B on the National Alliance on Mentally Illness' last Report Card on the States —and no one got an A. We have one of the best community networks in the country. On the other side of the coin, as it were, these same programs providing exceptional quality services have received exactly three rate increases in the past 15 years and are now staring down the barrel of significant cuts. Some programs will almost certainly close their doors.

None of us begrudge one penny going to educate our children or support our colleagues in the developmental disabilities world. I am not writing to suggest that Peter should be robbed to sustain Paul. Rather, I am writing to urge The Sun and our legislators to support the Lorraine Sheehan Dime-A-Drink bill or amend SB 994 so that a valuable resource, our community mental health network, which serves children and adults throughout the state, not be allowed to sink into mediocrity, from which it will be far more difficult — and expensive — to restore it.

Richard Bearman, Catonsville

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