Treatment services for people with substance use disorders have improved this past year, partly because of a large federal grant administered via Mid Shore Behavioral Health, Inc.
Maryland officials last September announced more than $66 million across two fiscal years, as part of State Opioid Response (SOR) grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA). The grants support a comprehensive approach to the opioid epidemic and expanded access to treatment.
Across Maryland, funds went toward public awareness campaigns, Narcan distribution, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and other efforts.
Here on the Eastern Shore, Mid Shore Behavioral Health, the local Core Service Agency (CSA), applied for – and received, SOR funding. Those funds have expanded recovery housing, doubled local crisis beds and brought additional Safe Stations to the region. The SOR funding also has expanded the team of Mid Shore Behavioral Health to include Ann Simpers, behavioral health coordinator, who supports the management of all SOR-related activities. Core Service Agencies are local mental health authorities that plan, manage and monitor local public health services. Mid Shore Behavioral Health is the largest CSA in the state, serving all five Mid-Shore counties.
“The most outstanding thing that we’ve executed since we got the grant is that we’ve grown the crisis beds from four to eight,” said Kathryn Dilley, executive director at Mid Shore Behavioral Health.
Prior to the grant, the A.F. Whitsitt Center in Chestertown, which is one of two residential treatment centers on the Mid-Shore, had four crisis beds available for people with opioid misuse disorder.
“The beds are being fully utilized, which reinforces the fact that we are very much still in an opioid crisis,” said Dilley. “It’s kind of sad to say those beds are full most days, but I am proud they’re available.”
Dilley credits a superstar team in Kent County, where A.F. Whitsitt is located, including Joe Jones, Local Addiction Authority; William Webb, the county’s health officer; and Jennifer McCready, crisis bed counselor and after-hours contact person.
“No obstacle slows them down,” Dilley added. “They meet people right where they are coming in.”
The beds aren’t just for people in Kent County; rather, they are available to anyone with an opioid misuse dependency, who meets the screening criteria. Anyone who needs help can call Whitsitt for a screening or come in person during ‘walk-in Wednesdays.’
SOR funds also have led to the creation of three additional Safe Stations on the Shore, one in Wicomico and a second in Worcester, both of which opened Aug. 1, 2019. A third is set to open, possibly this fall, in Queen Anne’s County. Safe Stations are an out-of-the-box solution for people needing treatment. A person simply walks into a location, asks for help, and gets the services necessary to start that process. The focus of the SOR funded Safe Stations is to highlight the use of the peer support network as being a complement to a team hosting a Safe Station.
Talbot County has two safe stations – one in Easton, at the Talbot County Department of Emergency Services on Port Street, and a second at the St. Michaels Police Department. Both sites are open daily, 9 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Mid Shore Behavioral Health also applied and received funding for expanding recovery houses in Dorchester and Queen Anne’s county, with at least four more houses on the horizon between those two counties. Separately, each county across the state has received funding to expand recovery housing via the SOR grant, including Talbot, Caroline, and Kent.
Dilley also held the first harm reduction training on the Shore in January. Harm reduction involves strategies, like Narcan distribution, geared at reducing the negative effects (harms) of drug use. Mid Shore Behavioral Health also conducted trainings and provided Narcan to all the Mid-Shore homeless shelters this summer, in conjunction with Local Addiction Authorities.
“In terms of resources, we are definitely progressing with innovative and out-of-the-box ways to get new services plugged into our region, so consumers don’t have to go out of the region to get help,” said Dilley.
Dilley also noted how remarkable it is to watch the ‘Go Purple’ movement across the shore.
“Not all of the counties outside of Talbot were as well-oiled as they are now,” she said. “It’s growing – the community engagement is amazing. It’s almost a mission of our region to keep this alive, the purple awareness activities and outreach. It’s so impressive.”