A recent story in The Sun highlighted the financial and workforce strain many Maryland nonprofit mental health and substance use treatment organizations are experiencing, (“Maryland mental health and addiction providers face financial and staffing pressures: ‘like a game of whack-a-mole,’” April 14).

We know that people in Baltimore City are also feeling the strain of two years of the COVID pandemic, increased violence in our communities and job loss and economic uncertainty. Baltimore City’s 24/7 behavioral health helpline saw calls for help double at the start of the COVID pandemic, and they have not gone down. With such a growing need for help, we must do everything we can to ensure that people have ready access to behavioral health care.

The ongoing billing problems with Optum Maryland, the firm under contract with the Maryland Department of Health to administer payments for Medicaid, are causing some behavioral health providers to limit their services, and some are leaving the program altogether. Many programs struggle to recruit and retain therapists, counselors and peer support staff.

Combined, these issues are cause for alarm. Providers simply cannot meet the expanding need, and many of our friends, neighbors and relatives are going without care.

At a time when there is increased demand for mental health and substance use services, state health leaders and policymakers must do everything they can to fix the billing problems and build a stable behavioral health workforce to ensure there is equitable 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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