Report: County lags in mental health resources; Study also focuses on how drug usage, gang violence affect residents' well-being
Maryland Gazette - 3/2/2019
A triennial report claims the county continues to lag behind in providing quality mental health services even as officials say mental illness could be linked to a number of different issues affecting Anne Arundel County.
Titled the "Community Health Needs Assessment," the collaborative county report looks at everything from poverty to youth violence when assessing the general health of the county's citizens.
And as county officials continue to look at strengthening the services that serve people with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, the report's authors take the county to task for its lack of available services.
"Residential services are a growing and urgent need," the report reads, claiming the county has seen a substantial growth in people accessing mental health services, from about 9,600 in fiscal year 2012 to more than 16,000 in fiscal year 2018.
"The rise in behavioral health issues for every age group, and the lack of appropriate services and service providers, were the major concerns for all participants in this needs assessment," the report reads.
"These issues are exacerbated by providers who don't accept Medicaid and Medicare, and patients with inadequate health insurance, or not insurance at all."
The report comes as Anne Arundel Medical Center is continuing to develop a new mental health hospital on which they broke ground in 2018, which will have 16 beds and serve 900 patients once completed.
This is to combat a county that has one mental health provider for every 650 residents, according to the report, well below the state average of 460 for every one resident.
The county's Mental Health Agency is also looking to address co-occurring disorders in their fiscal year 2020 plan, which stated the agency "will promote an environment where people recovering from mental illness and substance use disorders can lead fulfilling lives in the community" as one of its main goals for the upcoming year.
During a meeting in Millersville to review the report's findings, Pamela Brown, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Child, Youth and Families, said there's also a growing divide between the county's poorest and richest residents.
While the county has largely touted low unemployment numbers and a strong regional economy as indicators the county is performing well overall, Brown said some of the increased wealth is being concentrated in the top tax brackets rather than distributed among the county as a whole.
While the number of households making less than $25,000 a year did shrink by 1.8 percent between 2010 and 2016, which Brown said is good news for the county, homes making $100,000 or more grew by more than 50 percent.
The percentage of households making above $200,000 a year represented the largest growth group of any income level, growing by nearly 7,000 homes over the same time period.
And households making between $25,000 and $100,000 a year shrank across the board, with homes making between $50,000 and $75,000 - the real median household income for the United States is $59,039 as of September 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau - decreasing by 6.5 percent over that time.
"It is not helpful to a community when you see those massive gaps," Brown said.
The report also focuses on a number of environmental and societal factors affecting county residents' health, including drug usage and gang violence.
Regarding the transnational gang, the report claims that the Annapolis Collaborative for Change, "a cross sector partnership on gun and gang violence," has identified "four sects of MS-13 across the county."
Much of the focus on the gang has singled in on the Annapolis area, but county officials say they've arrested dozens of suspected MS-13 members and a Severn man pleaded guilty to charges related to his leadership ranking in the organization.
The report quotes an anonymous Hispanic resident as saying "some elementary school children are very familiar with MS-13" because "they are second generation - their parents are gang members."
Violent crime has spilled over into county schools, the report claims, as it says youth violence has increased "both in amount and intensity." Some have pointed to gang activity, especially after two men were charged with assaulting a 15-year-old after he refused to join MS-13.
The report quotes an anonymous school official as saying that fights among the county's youth "involve weapons."
"Aggression was aggression but now the aggression is more dangerous, more volatile, having more serious repercussions in terms of injuries and the like," the report quotes the official.
Brown expanded on this point during Wednesday's presentation on the report, saying she believes social media has only fueled the violence seen in county schools.
As for opioid addiction, the report goes beyond taking a look at the increase of overdose deaths to look at the "secondary victims," such as the families left behind when someone does die of an overdose.
"The number of newborns assessed positive for substances in their systems, including methadone, has risen 144 percent since 2014 from 74 to 181," the report reads, citing statistics from the Department of Social Services.
And as more children handle the difficulties of having a parent addicted to drugs, the report claims that some interviewed "suggested we need narcotics support groups for teen family members."
Credit: By Phil Davis - firstname.lastname@example.org
Caption: The Community Health Needs Assessment for Anne Arundel County.