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Harford behavioral health crisis center expected to open this summer

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The first phase of a new Harford County Behavioral Health Crisis Center, a combined facility to treat mental health and opioid addiction issues, is expected to open this summer, a top Upper Chesapeake Health official said Tuesday.

A lease on a facility, which will offer walk-in crisis services, a call center and, eventually, residential crisis beds, could be signed as soon as this week, Lyle Sheldon, president and CEO of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health told members of the Harford County Council.

“This will be the first of its kind in the state,” Sheldon said. “Other places in the state focus on opioids; this will focus on both, opioids and mental health.”

He was speaking during a biannual Board of Health update before Tuesday’s Harford County Council meeting; the council sits as the Board of Health.

Dr. Russell Moy, Harford County health officer, also addressed the council, providing updates on the county’s emergency preparedness, its overall health and efforts to reduce prescription drug abuse.

Harford County has a behavioral health unit at Harford Memorial Hospital, and it is proposed to expand as part of Upper Chesapeake Health’s Vision 2020, which also includes a new free-standing medical center in Havre de Grace to replace the aging Harford Memorial Hospital and an expansion of Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

“Vision 2020 is a long way away, and as we were assessing what that might mean, we realized there was more action that we needed to take sooner,” Sheldon said. “What we’ve outlined is what we thought of as a vision for a public-private partnership around behavioral health and the opioid crisis.”

The idea for a crisis center was born out of a community meeting July 2017, when more than 65 people from families, patients, agencies and providers came together to identify gaps and propose ways to improve the system, Sheldon said. Three needs immediately arose: access and immediacy, coordinator and education.

It was proposed at a meeting in November between health system officials and members of the Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, he said.

Services that will be offered at the single location in Bel Air include a 24-hour a day, seven-day-a-week, residential crisis bed center, a 24/7 walk-in crisis assessment and stabilization center and peer navigation; a 24/7 call/triage center for information and referral; and countywide targeted community education.

The first phase — the crisis hot-line with mobile crisis units and an outpatient mental health clinic with scheduled urgent appointments 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, is expected to be operating this summer, Sheldon said.

The 24/7 walk-in urgent car clinic is planned to open at the center in the fall, when representatives from the community partners will also move into the center.

The first crisis residential beds are planned to be available by early 2019, Sheldon said.

The call center will require eight to 10 full-time employees, which will cost $500,000 to $600,000, with funding from private and public sources. The walk-in/residential crisis center, with a proposed eight beds, is projected to cost $1 million to $1.3 million, Sheldon said.

Among the funding sources for the crisis center, to which Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has pledged $250,000 in the next fiscal year’s budget, include Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation; community fundraising; local, state and federal grants; and the Maryland Health Care Commission.

Partners in the Harford County Behavioral Health Crisis Center include University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, Healthy Harford, Harford County government, Office on Mental Health/Core Service Agency, Local Health Improvement Coalition, Mental Health Addiction Advisory Council and numerous community stakeholders.

Drug, mental health in Harford

Six months ago, Harford’s health officer warned the council that overdoses were quickly becoming a more frequent cause of death among Harford residents.

Ranked the seventh-leading killer of Harford residents in 2016, overdoses include all drugs and alcohol-related deaths. In October 2017, Moy cautioned that fatal overdoses could become the third-leading cause of death, if they continued at their current rate.

In that period, however, overdoses moved up just one spot to the sixth-leading cause of death in Harford, he said.

“So it’s getting worse, however the rate is not as high as we anticipated,” Moy said.

Moy said 4.3 percent of Harford adolescents in grades nine through 12 between 2013 and 2016 reported using heroin at least once.

“It’s far too high, above the state average,” he said.

At about 25 percent, the adolescent alcohol use rate in Harford is below the state average of nearly 30 percent. That number is on the decline, Moy said.

On the rise is the percentage of Harford teens who have felt sad and hopeless every day for two weeks straight, according to a survey, up 14 percent over the past three years, Moy said. Harford County was on pace with the state around 30 percent.

Consistent with that, Moy said, the number of adolescents with suicidal thoughts has risen by 9 percent over the past three years. About 17 percent of Harford teens have considered suicide.

Suicide mortality rates have risen 9 percent over the past five years, Moy said, and is well above the state average.

“As you follow the headlines at the national level, the state level, the local level, about behavioral health and the opioid issue, we certainly think there’s a power of partnership and it’s a timely effort by all of these organizations to attack many of the things Dr. Moy has talked about.”

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