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Judges ask lawmakers' help on shortage of psychiatric beds

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Three judges who order inmates to treatment in mental health facilities asked state lawmakers Wednesday to help set clear rules on how long people can languish in jail waiting to be transferred for psychiatric care — and who will be held responsible if that deadline passes.

Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader, who is under a judge’s contempt order for the shortage of beds and long waits for such patients, joined the judges in asking the General Assembly for clear guidance.

“This is a problem,” Baltimore City Mental Health Court Judge George Lipman said of the chronic shortage of beds during a hearing Wednesday in Annapolis. “This is a lose-sleep-as-a-judge problem.”

“Nobody thinks contempt orders are a solution,” added Baltimore County Administrative Judge Kathleen Cox. She said the high-profile sanction for Schrader in August “highlights the problem” but doesn’t solve it.

Schrader and other top administration officials are appealing the contempt order while scrambling to open 95 more beds in state psychiatric facilities.

“We need to have this discussion in the legislature,” Schrader said. “The judges are correct in their thinking.

Del. Erek Barron, a Prince George’s Democrat, read off a list of state documents dating back to 1999 noting that Maryland had a shortage of beds for forensic patients, the term for people referred to mental health care from the criminal justice system.

ecox@baltsun.com

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