Moratorium of housing for those with mental illness a failure for patients and the public

Letter to the editor

October 26, 2011

Kevin Rector was quite astute in bringing up the moratorium on new residential rehabilitation program beds that has been in place since 2000 ("County's mentally ill face chronic housing shortage," Catonsville Times and Arbutus Times, Oct. 12).

There was a fairly vibrant affordable housing development effort going on before the moratorium that was moving toward filling the need of those hospitalized or in danger of being hospitalized because of psychiatric disorders.

Supposedly, the moratorium was put in place for financial reasons — to save money. To that end, it has been a colossal failure.

It has also been a public policy failure and an ethical failure.

The moratorium and the inability of mental health providers to meet the burgeoning needs of people with psychiatric disabilities for affordable housing with needed supports has almost certainly led to overcrowded emergency rooms, incarcerations in lieu of treatment, packed homeless shelters and the backup of confinements in state hospitals.

There are probably many reasons why Dr. Brian Hepburn, executive director of the Maryland Hygiene Administration, refused to comment on the moratorium.

If I were he, I would be too embarrassed to respond to a failed public policy, which his administration continues to promote.

More likely, the most important reason was that the administration's attorneys probably told him not to.

The moratorium, in my lay opinion, flies in the face of the Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead decision, which stated that those with mental disabilities have the right to live in the community rather than in institutions. In the words of the opinion of the court, if "the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities."

The state would probably argue that it doesn't have the resources to move people out of state institutions.

At a $200,000 per person per year cost to taxpayers, compared to a fourth of that cost in the community?

When the federal government participates in that community cost at 50 percent and there is no federal money covering state institutional care?

Pretty weak argument.

Yet no one has pushed the issue with the state, including Herbert Cromwell's Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland.

Until someone steps up to challenge the state for effectively thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court decision, hundreds, maybe thousands of individuals like Mr. Reed will continue to have their lives negatively impacted by the moratorium.

And in the third or fourth richest state in the Union, this is more than just a legal transgression — it is a moral transgression as well.


R. Scott Graham


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