Letters to the Editor, June 12, 2019

A letter of thanks to all our fire companies

On Tuesday, June 4, I was doing some work at our farm on Taylors Island when I discovered a heavy cloud of smoke.
Driving to the source I found that five or more acres of woods had burned and the fire was heading toward some of my buildings, etc.

I immediately called 911 to report the fire.
Within minutes state and county personnel responded to my call. Fire companies and state officials totaling around 40 personnel arrived in time to isolate the fire and save my properties.

Gilbert Wagner, fire specialist for the Maryland Forest Service, determined that the fire was the result of a lightning strike from the lightning storm from Sunday evening.

We were God-blessed by the fact that I was on the property at the time of the fire because we would have lost much valuable equipment and buildings.

Thanks to the quick response only woods were burned.
The fire companies that responded were:
• Taylors Island,
• Madison,
• Church Creek,
• Lakes and Straits,
Other state and local personnel.

We are truly blessed and served by the people (men and women) who volunteer to serve the county. Without their dedicated service we would be in deep trouble.

All our fire companies deserve our gratitude and support.
Robert G. Kirkley
Robinson Neck Road
Taylors Island

May was mental health month
This past session, I had the honor of working with behavioral health advocates from across the State as well as Delegates Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-37A) and Kevin Hornberger (R-35A) to pass a package of legislative initiatives that will make it easier for individuals, particularly in our rural areas, to receive quick and efficient behavioral health care services.

On May 13, Governor Larry Hogan signed into law SB 524 – Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Telemedicine – Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners and Psychiatrists and SB 944 – Behavioral Health Programs – Outpatient Mental Health Centers – Medical Directors. Previously, on April 30th, the Governor also signed SB 178 – Outpatient Mental Health Centers – Medical Directors – Telehealth.

May is recognized nationally as Mental Health Month and I could not imagine a better way to celebrate than through the passage of new laws that will assist District 37 residents, as well as the entire State of Maryland, in becoming better equipped to receive these imperative services.

SB 178 authorizes medical directors of outpatient mental health to provide services through telehealth. In FY 18, the public behavioral health system in Maryland served approximately 260,000 people through a variety of programs; currently, licensing regulations require these programs to have a psychiatrist serving as a medical director onsite for twenty hours a week. This legislation broadens the use of telehealth to allow these medical directors to be offsite.

SB 524 adds psychiatric nurse practitioners to the list of those able to provide Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) or mobile treatment services (MTS) and to receive reimbursement for these services. Throughout the State and particularly on the rural Eastern Shore, lack of psychiatrists and lack of transportation serve as strong barriers for receiving adequate mental health care.

ACT and MTS are imperative for getting our providers out in the communities and to meet clients where they are at. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are providing critical outpatient services and this legislation allows them to serve their communities and clients through telehealth and receive reimbursement for their services.

Licensing regulations from the Maryland Department of Health currently require a medical director to be a psychiatrist; however, it is often difficult to recruit and retain psychiatrists for this position. As a result of SB 944, MDH is now required to adopt regulations authorizing a psychiatric nurse practitioner to serve as a medical director of an accredited outpatient mental health center, including through the use of telehealth. This will help to prevent facilities from having to turn patients away or potentially closing.

In reflecting upon this past session and these accomplishments, Katie Dilley, executive director of Mid Shore Behavioral Health, Inc., said, “This year, the Mid Shore Behavioral Health Coalition worked to prioritize our advocacy with supporting bills that would not only expand access to behavioral health care, but sustain our current provider network that serves our rural community. By way of SB 178, SB 524, and SB 944, we now have the ability to ensure that the requirement of on-site psychiatry will not hinder our providers from being in compliance with regulations required to be operational. The support of psychiatric engagement by way of tele-health and endorsement of the utilization of leadership support with our psychiatric nurse practitioner workforce in Outpatient Mental Health Clinics, will provide the assurance to our consumers and providers with access to care and potentially support expansion of services with the new regulatory allowances. The Coalition is so grateful for the support of Senator Eckardt and her leadership and pioneering Bills that will impact our behavioral health system from a supportive stance. Senator Eckardt has a true appreciation of the needs in our rural region, and the belief in access to quality behavioral health care. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate Mental Health Awareness month than with the introduction of these new Bills. This session has been a true partnership with our Coalition, Senator Eckardt, and the Eastern Shore Delegation. We look forward to our continued partnership in the coming session.”

Shannon Hall, executive director of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland, and her team were also extremely beneficial in getting these pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly; as she said, “Outpatient mental health centers and Assertive Community Treatment teams provide access to behavioral health services for thousands of Maryland adults and children. We thank Senator Eckardt for her leadership in ensuring the viability of these critical services by allowing the use of technology to address workforce shortages, particularly in the area of psychiatry. Passage of these important bills – and Governor Hogan signing them into law – is a perfect way to recognize and celebrate May as Mental Health Month.”

Senator Adelaide C. Eckardt
District 37–Caroline, Dorchester,
Talbot, and Wicomico Counties
Adelaide.Eckardt.District@senate.state.md.us

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