Maryland needs to resolve behavioral billing issues and build a stable workforce

A recent story in The Sun highlighted the financial and staffing pressures experienced by many Maryland mental health and substance use nonprofits (“Maryland mental health and substance abuse providers are under financial and staffing pressures: “as a game of whack ,’” Apr 14).

We know that people in Baltimore City are also feeling the pressure of a two-year COVID pandemic, increased violence in our communities, and job losses and economic uncertainty. Baltimore City’s 24/7 Behavioral Helpline has seen requests for help double at the start of the COVID pandemic, and they have not declined. With such a growing need for help, we must do everything we can to ensure that people have easy access to behavioral health care.

Ongoing billing issues with Optum Maryland, the company that contracts with the Maryland Department of Health to manage payments for Medicaid, is causing some behavioral health providers to limit their services, and some to abandon the program altogether. Many programs struggle to recruit and retain therapists, counselors, and peer support staff.

Combined, these problems are cause for concern. Providers simply cannot meet the growing need, and many of our friends, neighbors and relatives go without a care.

At a time when there is an increasing demand for mental health and substance use services, state health leaders and policymakers must do all they can to solve billing problems and build a stable behavioral health workforce to ensure fair and reliable access to treatment and support services in the community.

— Adrienne Breidenstine

The writer is vice president of policy and communications for Behavioral Health System Baltimore.

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