Katherine Bonincontri hired five additional staff members to help meet the county's growing opioid treatment needs. She is hoping for state funding to help underwrite increased staffing costs.
The founder of the Pascal Crisis Stabilization Center is still waiting from word from the state if money will be channeled through the county to the Crownsville nonprofit, despite the fact the state told counties to be ready to implement new or expanded programs potentially funded by the grant by Sept. 1.
Meant to serve as a piece of Anne Arundel's solution to combat opioid addiction by tackling underlying mental health issues, the center hired the staff as it expected to expand its facility in anticipation of grant funding from the state. The funding delay is impacting several county treatment centers including Hope House in Crownsville and Harbour House in Glen Burnie. Those locations are working to accept more patients as the county deals with a growing opioid problem.
Fran Phillips, acting director of the county's health department, said the state asked counties writing the proposals to demonstrate they'd have all the mechanisms in place for any expansion of services to be ready to be implemented on Sept. 1 to be eligible for $2 million in funding.
The county has requested about $1.4 million in funding from the state. The timing of the grant money looked to line up with a late-summer uptick in people addicted to drugs visiting "Safe Stations," or police and fire stations throughout the county outfitted to direct those looking for recovery resources to the proper treatment centers.
What had been pitched as something that could handle five people a week is now seeing an average of about 14 people per week over the past month-and-a-half, according to Anne Arundel police. If the county were one of the four to be awarded some slice of the $2 million pie to go toward beds at treatment centers, it'd increase their capacity to treat those looking to recover at a time when some centers say their wait list for treatment is 60 people long.
Bonincontri said that was why her team hired four new staff members and an additional nurse.
"I believe we made a staffing decision on the understanding that the county was looking for more capacity," Bonincontri said.
That staffing could've been funded in part by the grant funding and Phillips said she was under the impression that decisions like these needed to be made by Sept. 1.
"We were told we had to have a program up and running by Sept. 1," she said.
As of Friday, there is still no word as to who will receive the money or when it will be released.
And while $2 million might seem like a drop in the bucket when Congress is discussing how to allocate billions more across the country, Phillips didn't mince words when asked about the county's $1.4 million request for funding.
"We need it bad," she said.
Called the Maryland Opioid Rapid Recovery Response, the state's Department of Health asked states in July to come up with proposals by Aug. 10 they could be implemented by Sept. 1. It's something Phillips admitted led to "many sleepless nights" and a turnaround that Bonincontri said she'd never experienced applying for grants.
According to the Department of Health, the grant funding is a result of about $10 million in federal funding the department's Behavioral Health Administration received from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
"The grant award will be used to address Maryland's opioid crisis by increasing access to treatment, reducing unmet treatment need, and reducing opioid overdose related deaths through the provision of prevention, treatment and recovery activities for opioid use disorder," the department said.
The grant funding was designed to help expand halfway houses and send additional funding to treat more people addicted to opioids at crisis centers like Bonincontri's.
Phillips said the county applied for funding to accommodate an additional 60 clients a month. Thirty would require medically assisted treatment and 30 would not — which would be paid for by the state at daily rates of $293 a day per bed and $263 a day per bed, respectively.
It would allow places like Hope House in Crownsville and Harbour House in Glen Burnie to accept more patients as the county deals with a growing opioid problem. The county has looked for various new avenues to stem continually record-breaking numbers for overdoses from opioids, even pursuing legal action against various actors and movers in the opioid industry.
In addition, the county applied for $225,000 to expand some halfway houses for those in recovery as they reintegrate into society.
While the state asked for "a clear and concise timeline for the implementation of services and startup by September 1, 2017" — which would also require hiring more staff to facilitate any expansion at the crisis centers, as required by Maryland law — potential recipients aren't sure what is causing the funding delay.
On Sept. 6, health department spokesman Chris Garrett said the proposals were still being reviewed and a spokeswoman for the department did not give any update as to the allocation of funds on Sept. 15.
Phillips said the heads of all of the state's health departments were told Wednesday the award amounts would be announced on Friday by the end of business hours.
At 5:02 p.m., Phillips left the office with no answer.