dr marten laces Reopen Upper Shore mental health center
In 2009, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene closed the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Chestertown, leaving the area with no place for those in need of institutional care. The center had 60 beds when it closed for what was billed as a cost cutting measure in a financial crisis.
Nearly six years later, the real reasons are sounding much more political, as Comptroller Peter Franchot said during a Board of Public Works meeting earlier this month and on a recent visit to Chestertown. “I believed then as I do now that the move was politically motivated, given that the facility was located in a conservative area of the state where Republicans tend to get elected,” Franchot, a Democrat, said at a May 13 Board of Public Works meeting.
According to the DHMH website for the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center, the closure fell in line with the state’s “policy to provide services in the most integrated setting” and was recommended “to accommodate a transition to community based alternatives that will provide services to patients in the least restrictive setting available.”The site states that “consumers” in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment would still receive it “consistent with the quality of care provided throughout the state.”
Franchot said there was no real plan for treating patients, though. “The item was developed and presented to this board in haste and those who presented the item to the board either willfully or mistakenly misrepresented the issue by saying that the vast majority of patients hailed from communities outside of the Eastern Shore and therefore could be transported to other facilities within the Baltimore/Washington corridor with minimal stress and inconvenience on their families. That just turned out to be flat wrong,” he said May 13.
While visiting Chestertown May 18, Franchot said he discussed the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center closure with Gov. Larry Hogan, who appears receptive to reopening the facility. Pipkin railed against the closing. His successor, Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., and Del. Jay Jacobs, a former Rock Hall mayor, both took up the mantle. Under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration, which called for the facility’s closing, their shouts and Pipkin shouted a lot landed on deaf ears.
So could we see the center reopen? We certainly hope so. And we are optimistic about it to boot. The center’s closing was about more than 100 people losing their jobs. It was about losing a quality mental health care facility close by for those living on the Eastern Shore.
When the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting occurred in Newtown, Conn. in late 2012, the calls went out for mental health care reform. The Shore needed that reform just as much as anywhere else in the country, and we had an empty facility with 60 beds available. While debate focused more on policy issues for getting treatment, a practical solution to get the ball rolling was available in Chestertown to provide more mental health care options.
Another hot button and related issue is the state’s heroin epidemic. Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford has held symposiums on heroin abuse and addiction throughout the state. In an interview last month, Rutherford spoke about how substance abuse and mental health issues are often intertwined. He said that also could lead to a possible review of the previous administration’s decision to close the mental health center in Chestertown.
Providing quality mental health services in a local setting is very important. Likewise, we need an inpatient facility for those who need more intensive care. The current administration has an opportunity, and at least one high ranking across the aisle ally, to reopen the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center. We hope to see it happen.