Howard Countians need to pay more attention to mental health

People experiencing an acute or chronic mental illness need to have access to the help they need when they need it. Failure to connect with the appropriate support in a crisis can have dire consequences. And yet, health insurance coverage for mental illness is often inadequate. And while Howard County has a wide variety of behavioral health resources, there are gaps among needed services. 

Howard Countians collectively need to pay better attention to our behavioral health, identifying mental health issues when they occur and obtaining early intervention. That means volunteers should get Mental Health First Aid training (like CPR), agencies need to find ways to collaborate and remove barriers to care, and County government needs to make a bigger commitment to funding programs that plug service gaps.

Leaders of Howard County’s behavioral health system know what needs to be done, outlined here in the plans and advocacy goals of key players. It only requires the will and financial commitment to make it happen.

Final Report — Howard County Behavioral Health Task Force (March 27, 2015)

Inpatient Admissions
from Howard County Behavioral Health Data, Howard County LHIC, October 8, 2014

Our publicly-funded behavior health system is sound. The county has increased support for behavioral health crisis services, such as the mobile crisis team at Grassroots and mental health staffing within the Police Department.

We are fortunate to have inpatient psychiatric services for adults at Howard County General Hospital and emergency psychiatric services for adults, adolescents, and children. The Howard County Public School System has a robust psychological services program and the county seems to have a sufficient supply of mental health professionals in the community.

However,  challenges abound. Many of our community mental health providers either do not take or have difficulty taking private insurance coverage. . . . Publicly-funded substance abuse services are at risk as grant funding is replaced by a fee for service reimbursement model. Services and funding are siloed and we have no alcohol or drug detox treatment center in the county.

Not surprisingly then, coordination across and among county agencies, providers, the school system, and community organizations is challenging. And the challenge of identifying one’s illness or a family member’s illness, seeking care, and getting on the path to recovery is made so much harder.

Task Force Recommendations

  • Strengthen the delivery of urgently needed behavioral health services.
  • Develop a coordinated effort to assist providers of behavioral health services in resolving private insurance problems and help consumers navigate private insurance barriers.
  • Better screen for behavioral health conditions in the County by supporting the development and use of universal screening tools.
  • Educate the community about how to identify signs of behavioral health issues, how to connect with community resources, and how to act in a more informed manner.
  • Help residents access services by widely distributing current information on behavioral health providers in Howard County on an ongoing basis.
  • Help individuals involved with the criminal justice system find community resources by funding a position to coordinate across agencies.
  • Support the Local Health Improvement Coalition (LHIC) and its members as it advances its strategic plan 2015-2017.

brandHoward County Mental Health Authority

The Howard County Mental Health Authority (HCMHA) is the Core Service Agency (CSA) for Howard County, (the) designated county authority responsible for planning, managing, and monitoring publicly funded mental health services.  The public mental health system covers individuals who receive medical assistance and, in some cases, the low-income uninsured.

Number of clients
from Howard County Behavioral Health Data, Howard County LHIC, October 8, 2014

The mission of the Howard County Mental Health Authority is to insure the availability of quality mental health services and provide leadership in the county on mental health issues through education, prevention, community and interagency partnerships to better serve the broader community.

Mental Health Authority FY 2017 Goals and Objectives

  1. Promote community awareness, education and support for a system of integrated services for individuals with a behavioral health disorder.
  2. Services are focused on the Recovery Model and are culturally competent as well as consumer and family driven.
  3. Utilize all available data to analyze trends, improve the quality of services and maintain system accountability.
  4. Develop and maintain partnerships across community agencies, the provider community and general public that will promote an efficient delivery of behavioral health services.
  5. Collaborate with the local Health Department and county government to integrate both the administrative functions and services of a local Behavioral Health entity.

Howard County Health Department — Local Health Improvement Coalition, 2015-2017 Action Plan

  1. Expand access to behavioral health resources and reduce behavioral health emergencies in Howard County.  Support programs and activities working to expand access to behavioral health resources and reduce behavioral health emergencies.
  2. Reduce number of suicides in Howard County. Increase suicide prevention activities.
  3. Reduce number of drug and alcohol-related intoxication deaths in Howard County. (Specifically: Opiates, Alcohol, and Benzodiazepines.)  Support programs and activities working to reduce the number of drug and alcohol-related intoxication deaths.

hcpss Logo
HCPSS Continuum of Supports for Behavioral/Mental Health — Vision 2018 (July, 2013)

Outcome 1.7:  Schools support the social and emotional safety and well-being of all students.

  1. Actively involve students in building positive school environments.
  2. Model and reinforce civility and appropriate positive behavior.
  3. Provide developmentally appropriate instruction on social and emotional safety and well-being, respect for peers, empathy, and personal strengths.
  4. Collaborate with the community and county government to provide easily accessible, appropriate mental health services and supports for students in Pre·K through Grade 12.
  5. Ensure students have access to culturally proficient professional staff members who support them and help them solve problems.
  6. Strengthen professional learning in safeguarding students’ social and emotional safety and well-being.
  7. Strengthen staff collaboration to support students’ social and emotional safety and well-being.

from Howard County Behavioral Health Data, Howard County LHIC, October 8, 2014
from Howard County Behavioral Health Data, Howard County LHIC, October 8, 2014

cropped-0000000107_color2015 Advocacy Priorities

Founded in 1979, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the largest grassroots mental health advocacy organization dedicated to improving the lives of all who are affected by serious and chronic mental illness. Working at the national, state and local levels, NAMI facilitates hope and health in our communities through programs of awareness, support, education, and advocacy.

  1. Protect and expand adequate funding in the new Behavioral Health 2015 Administration Budget.
  2. Advocate for individuals and families in crisis.
  3. Promote community education on mental health.
  4. Ensure effective systems to implement the Affordable Care Act.
  5. Expand mental health services for those who serve in the military.
  6. Promote integration of care.
  7. Improve early detection and intervention for youth (ages zero to 24).



Published by

Harry Schwarz

Nicknamed “The Professor” by his colleagues, Harry is a native Marylander who moved to Columbia in 2001. Harry’s wife, Cathy, is a Columbia acupuncturist and the family includes two college-age children, a dog and a cat. Harry is a partner with BearsolutionsLLC, assisting charter school authorizers to provide effective financial oversight. He is underemployed at this time and welcomes conversation about how he might help you.

2 thoughts on “Howard Countians need to pay more attention to mental health”

  1. I’ve been a long time resident of Howard County and Columbia and generally I’m very proud of the mental health system we have here in our county.
    However, I am a surviver of childhood trauma with PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) along with my other mental health diagnosis.
    I have both Medicare and Medicaid and recently found myself in the position of needing a new therapist.
    I had a very hard time finding one because I needed one who dealt with people who had my kind of history and insurance.
    Dealing with the hurdle of finding the right therapist was hard enough, but finding a provider who took both my insurances was very difficult.
    You can notsearch for anyone who takes both, you can not call anyone and ask for help based on both. Only one or the other.
    Someone needs to do something. I even had people tell me they took Medicaid but not my card only the MCO’s and I told them I have the original Medicaid. They didn’t recognize it.


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