Download full press release here.
Annapolis, Md. (February 23) —More than 500 advocates and families rallied today in Annapolis to increase access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment. At the rally, led by the Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition, speakers called on the General Assembly to pass the Keep the Door Open Act and other legislation to increase access and funding for critical treatment services. The Act (SB476/HB580) is sponsored Senator Guy Guzzone and Delegate Antonio Hayes, and would ensure that adequate funding for community health providers is included annually in the state budget.
Advocates say that demand for behavioral health services – which includes both mental health and substance use disorders – has risen dramatically but treatment capacity has not. A recent report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found that Maryland had the longest ER wait times in the country. The Maryland Hospital Association says the recent increase in wait times is being driven by mental health and substance use visits. Additionally, Medicaid spending for behavioral health related hospital admissions rose 45 percent between 2013 and 2015.
“We’re dealing with a serious crisis and we need to kick it up a notch,” said Senator Guzzone. “The Keep the Door Open Act will do just that – keep the doors to treatment open by supporting the medical professionals and direct care staff who are on the front lines of this crisis. This is a smart and critical investment to help the most vulnerable Marylanders.”
“We can’t ignore our friends, neighbors, coworkers and family who need help,” said Delegate Hayes. “Enough is enough – we need more access to treatment services in my community and in communities across Maryland. We need the Keep the Door Open Act.”
The Keep the Door Open Act indexes behavioral health provider rates, which have only had seven modest increases in the last 20 years, to the cost of medical inflation. Advocates say the bill is needed to attract and retain a qualified workforce by ensuring fair and stable provider rates. Community health providers administer traditional outpatient services, mobile treatment, crisis services, withdrawal management, rehabilitation, residential treatment, vocational services and housing.
Dozens of bills have been introduced during the current General Assembly session that pertain to Maryland’s ongoing opioid addiction crisis. Behavioral health advocates say that there is no easy solution but that an effective strategy must include education, outreach and treatment.
“We’re in the middle of a public health emergency in Maryland,” said Dr. Nancy Rosen-Cohen, executive director of National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – Maryland Chapter. “To combat this terrible opioid addiction crisis, we need prevention and – most importantly – treatment. There’s no way around it.”
“Years of stagnant funding have resulted in Marylanders losing critical access to behavioral health care,” said Shannon Hall, executive director of the Community Behavioral Health Association. “We simply can’t maintain this downward trend. Our clinics are having trouble keeping their doors open when Marylanders need them now more than ever.”
Other speakers at the rally included individuals who use or depend on behavioral health services, along with family members and health care providers. Other legislators that addressed the crowd included Senators Adelaide Eckardt, Katherine Klausmeier, Richard Madaleno, Roger Manno, Thomas “Mac” Middleton and Craig Zucker.
Advocates also spoke in support of other legislation on the coalition’s legislative agenda. These priorities include legislation that ensures more Marylanders can access crisis services by addressing coverage barriers for those with commercial health insurance (HB1288) and a bill that creates new long-term funding in the state budget for additional treatment resources to combat Maryland’s opioid epidemic (SB474 /HB 541). The coalition is also strongly supporting the Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act (SB967/HB1329), sponsored by Senator Katherine Klausmeier and Delegate Eric Bromwell.
The Senate version of the Keep the Door Open Act (SB476) is being heard this afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee, room 3 East in the Miller Senate Office Building. Hearings begin at 1:00pm.
Advocates are tweeting about the rally using #KeepthedooropenMd.
Chris Trumbauer, The Hatcher Group, 410-990-0284
Senator Guy Guzzone, 410-841-3572
Delegate Antonio Hayes, 410-841-3545
Dan Martin, Mental Health Association of Maryland, 410-978-8865
Dr. Nancy Rosen-Cohen, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – Maryland 410-625-6482