Report criticizes care of mentally ill Progress on 3-year goals termed slow


Two years into a three-year plan to improve services for the mentally ill, Anne Arundel County has accomplished only one-quarter of its goals, county mental health advocates said yesterday.

The county has reached 11 of more than 40 goals, including: establishing a psychiatric emergency response team to provide immediate help to people in crisis; expanding the county's ability to target the elderly who are not receiving services; and creating employment opportunities for the mentally ill, who are often unemployed or underemployed.

"It appears that indecisive leadership played a major role in the county's inability to develop the comprehensive mental health system the plan called for," wrote Thomas Schulz, chairman of the Needs Assessment and Planning Subcommittee, in an introduction to the 12-page report.

The subcommittee was formed by the county's Mental Health Advisory Committee to review progress and determine what remains to be done.

Although members of the subcommittee expressed disappointment over what they consider a lack of progress, some members of the county's advisory committee said the findings were not surprising.

"The economy has prompted the slow progress. . . . We've had cutbacks [in funding]," said Herbert S. Gross, director of the county's Division of Mental Health and Addictions.

Because the three-year plan, which went into effect July 1, 1991, coincided with some of the leanest fiscal years the county has seen, it's not surprising more hasn't been accomplished, he said.

Thomas E. Arthur, chairman of the Mental Health Advisory Committee, which advises the Health Department and county executive, said he wasn't prepared to categorize the county's progress as disappointing until he reviewed the full report.

"We've got to go back and reread the original report to see if maybe it was overly ambitious," he said. "Twenty-five percent could be reasonable if the original goals were very ambitious."

But Mr. Schulz refused to let the county off the hook.

The county has made such slow progress in caring for the mentally ill because it does not have a core service agency, he said. Such an agency, which would coordinate all services for the mentally ill, has been recommended by the state's Mental Hygiene Administration for the past four years.

Since 1989, the county has received state approval for three different plans for the agency, but none was carried out.

Although county officials say they now are moving ahead with plans for an agency, progress is excruciatingly slow, said some mental health advocates.

Mr. Schulz said the county is losing millions of dollars in state aid by not having a central agency, which could pursue state and federal grants.

In the needs assessment report, he says the county received less than $6.4 million in state funding in fiscal year 1991, or $14.90 per capita.

The state average, however, was $28.60 per capita.

If Anne Arundel had received the average amount, the county would have an additional $6 million that year, he said.

That money could have paid for many of the goals set out in the mental health plan, he said.

The advisory committee, appointed by the county executive, will discuss the report at its next meeting in September.

The committee will then prepare a final report, which will be submitted to the Health Department and county executive for review.

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