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AFSCME Maryland members and elected officials demand care for mental health patients in state faciltiies. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun video)

The state's largest public employees union criticized Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday over a shortage of beds in mental health facilities that has kept some mentally ill prisoners in jail long after the courts ruled they need treatment.

Members of AFSCME, joined by a trio of Democratic elected officials, held a news conference outside the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center to call attention to the staff shortages they say are preventing the state Department of Health from increasing mental health facilities' treatment capacity.

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Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, called the capacity shortage "a public health crisis." He pointed out that the health department was summoned to Baltimore Circuit Court last year to explain why it shouldn't be held in civil contempt for failing to admit patients referred by the courts in a timely manner.

This year, a Baltimore judge is considering whether to hold acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader in civil contempt over the bed shortage.

Maryland's top health official told a Baltimore judge Tuesday that he erred in not seeking more money in this year's state budget to relieve a bed shortage that has prompted his department to turn away patients from his department's mental hospitals.

Stephanie Reid , a social worker at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup and an AFSCME member, said she sees patients when they are first admitted from the state's detention centers.

"They come in very ill, having been off their meds, and are frequently in distress," she said. "Our state hospitals serve as the mental health [intensive care units] for this population. They are usually at the worst of their psychosis, and they are a danger to themselves and others."

The union says staffing shortages at the state's mental health hospitals — Perkins, Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville and Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville — are leading to forced overtime for the remaining workers and unsafe conditions. They say that housing mentally ill defendants in jail adds to the stress and risk for the correctional officers the union also represents.

State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. joined the AFSCME members at the city jail complex. He accused Hogan of shortchanging mental health in his budgets.

"The Hogan administration has taken no action in order to make progress on this," said the Montgomery County Democrat, who is running for governor. "If you want to have good outcomes in public safety and public health, putting the money in is the way to get this done."

State Del. Antonio Hayes and Baltimore Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, both Democrats, also spoke.

"You can't get well in a jail cell," Hayes said. "It's so important that we make the investment."

Health Department spokesman Christopher Garrett said the "political operatives at AFSCME are purposely misleading the public to serve their own interests."

In jails across Maryland, mentally ill individuals who have been charged with crimes are languishing in cells despite court orders entitling them to evaluation and treatment in hospitals.

Garrett said Schrader and Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen T. Moyer have been working to resolve the issue.

He said the two met in July, when there were 27 detainees who had been ruled incompetent to stand trial at central booking. Garrett said that number has since been reduced to four. He said the number of criminal defendants awaiting placement at state mental hospitals has been cut from 59 on July 5 to 28 this week.

Garrett said the health department is in the process of adding 40 beds to its capacity at Perkins, which treats the most dangerous patients, and the Eastern Shore Hospital Center.

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