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Maryland official held in contempt by judge is out at Health Department

A high-ranking official at the Maryland health department who was found in civil contempt of court in September has left his job overseeing psychiatric services.

Dr. Erik Roskes, director of the Behavioral Health Administration’s Office of Forensic Services, recently resigned, the department confirmed. A department spokeswoman would not say whether the resignation was voluntary. Reached at home, Roskes declined to comment.

Roskes, 53, was one of five department officials, including acting Secretary Dennis R. Schrader, who were held in contempt by Baltimore Circuit Judge Gale Rasin over the state’s failure to provide enough beds in its psychiatric hospitals for patients referred by the courts. The bed shortage has led to many cases in which defendants found to be mentally ill have lingered in jail. Rasin called that a violation of their rights.

Rasin ordered Roskes and the four other officials to take specific steps to remedy the shortage by Dec. 31. The department is appealing the contempt finding. Meanwhile, the state attorney general’s office is planning to file a motion to drop Roskes from the case because he no longer works for the state, spokeswoman Raquel Guillory Coombs said.

In addition to Schrader and Roskes, the officials cited are Deputy Secretary Barbara Bazron; Ina Taller, clinical director of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center; and Danielle Robinson, director of pretrial services at Perkins. Perkins, Maryland’s only maximum-security psychiatric hospital, treats the state’s most violent mentally ill defendants.

In a 42-page order, Rasin accused Roskes of engaging in a “shell game” in which he provided “dissembling and obfuscatory” explanations of his handling of data on the wait times experienced by patients referred to state hospitals by judges. She said data he provided to the General Assembly minimized the health department’s problems. The information was used to justify the agency’s failure to follow through on its own recommendation to add 100 beds, Rasin said. .

The judge also criticized Roskes for enforcing an unwritten policy under which staffers of the Circuit Court Medical Office who evaluate the mental health of criminal defendants were required to delay telling judges that individuals were incompetent to stand trial, even when staff had already made that determination.

After two other officials were unable to explain the policy, Rasin said, Roskes finally explained the reasons behind the directive — to conserve beds at Perkins, defer admissions there and to “maintain as much flexibility as we can.”

“Defer means to postpone, stall, impede, shelve, put on hold,” the judge wrote. She said that to purge the contempt finding, Roskes would have had to stop enforcing the policy by Dec. 31.

His last day on the job was Oct. 19.

According to his web page, Roskes is a board-certified general and forensic psychiatrist who has maintained a private practice while serving in his state government job, which paid $219,000 a year. Forensic psychiatry deals with the role of mental illness in criminal behavior.

Roskes, who had worked for the state since 1995, is widely published in the field of mental illness and the criminal justice system. In her order Rasin turned some of his published words back on him. She pointed out that in a psychiatry textbook, Roskes wrote about the dangers of keeping mentally ill patients in jails and prisons.

He is the second high-ranking health department official involved in mental health treatment to leave this month.

Andrea A. Braid, chief executive of Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville, left her job Oct. 13. That was two days before The Baltimore Sun published an article outlining a spike in assaults by patients on staff members during the first six months of this year and a persistent problem in filling vacancies at the largest state psychiatric hospital.

Department spokeswoman Brittany Fowler said Braid, who earned $119,000, had resigned. Attempts to contact Braid, 61, were unsuccessful.

Braid testified in Rasin’s contempt hearings but was not cited for contempt.

The judge spared Braid the criticism she leveled at other department officials. She said Braid’s testimony “draws a picture of a hospital that is being deprived of resources and one that cannot meet its obligations, despite the conscientious efforts of its leadership.”

Rasin wrote that Braid did not ask for more beds to reduce the hospital’s waiting list, “appearing to be cowed by the expectations of the Department of Budget and Management.” The judge pointed to Braid’s testimony that “we’ve been operating under the presumption that we’re given what we’re given and that’s all we can have.”

Fowler said the department has recently increased capacity by 32 beds and is working to add another 63 over the next few months. She said the total is higher than the number ordered by the court.

The four officials besides Roskes who were cited for contempt remain on the health department payroll. Fowler said. They include Schrader, who was appointed acting health secretary in late 2016 but failed to win Senate confirmation before Gov. Larry Hogan withdrew the nomination.

Hogan reappointed Schrader after the legislative session, a move that triggered a provision in state budget law that cut off the acting secretary’s pay as of July 1. Schrader has been working without pay while the administration challenges that provision in court.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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