Growing treatment numbers clash with addiction center closures

When state officials sent out a recent news release to detail their success providing 20,600 more Marylanders with drug and alcohol treatment, the description appeared vastly different than what some providers on the ground were saying. 

The Baltimore Sun was already investigating a tip that three treatment centers in Baltimore County were closing their doors this summer and others were at risk. To find out how both scenarios could be true proved to be difficult and the explanation was complicated, but the human stakes involved were undeniably important.

On one hand, Gov. Martin O’Malley praised the strides that state had made in recent years to improve access: “We are moving closer to meeting our goal in Maryland to expand access to substance abuse services,” he said

That’s true. A recent report reveals that an estimated 84,400 individuals received treatment in the fiscal year that ended June 30, up from about 63,800 three years ago. The state has changed the way it pays treatment providers, now using Medicaid, the federal program for the poor and disabled, instead of more flexible grants.

Shifting the money to Medicaid means the federal government will match what the state pays. The problem, however, is providers are not able to recoup the loss of the grant money through Medicaid billings. As a result, three centers in Baltimore County will close, one residential treatment center in Owings Mills may close its doors and the Sinai Hospital treatment program is getting cut back.

To solve the mystery of the dichotomy that was playing out, the Sun interviewed about 10 people, including state officials, recovering addicts, providers and advocates. Research for the article included reading the 2011 and 2012 Joint Chairmen’s reports on addition treatment spending and requesting budget data broken down per jurisdiction.

The simplest answer is that the state’s attempt to provide more treatment services to more Marylanders has some unintended consequences. The growing pains could be short-term, but some advocates are worried about lasting harm.

Tracey Myers-Preston, executive director of Maryland Addictions Directors Council, said in the long term the irregularity with Medicaid reimbursements could limit access and worsen a work force shortage in the field.

Young professionals are choosing different careers due to low pay and uncertainty in the industry, Myers-Preston said.

“We’re going to insure people. We’re going to assess them and there is going to be no programs to serve them,” Myers-Preston said.



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