Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why do some people get the services they need to live --and others who cannot access the services they need, are allowed to die?

"It is God's Will," replied Delegate Hammen's Top Legislative Aide.

I took off work without pay, gassed up my van, and drove to Annapolis to testify on the Recovery Home Residential Rights Protection Act --a bill that would require the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to adopt regulations for the certification of recovery residences that have staff and provide services to residents who have already gone through detox.

The bill would require these recovery homes to meet certain standards and requirements and prohibit a person from operating a recovery home without certification.

Currently, a person with an acute chronic opioid dependence enters an ASAM level 3.5 to 3.7 (detox) level of care, where they stay for two to four weeks, depending upon how long insurance or Medicaid will pay.  Still in need of residential services, these individuals, if they are willing and if there is an open bed, may be referred into the next level of residential care --ASAM level 3.1 (halfway house).  Halfway houses are regulated by DHMH, and staff must be certified and trained.

But since Maryland does not have enough regulated halfway houses for everyone who meets criteria for needing them, they are referred into "recovery residences" instead.  These are operated by untrained individuals without any credentials, who hire "staff" and provide some level of services --often contracted by an outside provider.  These houses fall under the Department of Housing.

We know there are some really good Recovery Houses --often providing better programs than some state regulated Halfway Houses.  Then there are the houses that pack in as many people as possible, confiscate residents' food stamp cards without providing food, trade sexual favors for rent, kick people out for ridiculous reasons, and allow "staff" to continue to use and sell drugs as long as they collect the rent.

This unregulated system of care allows untrained "staff" to financially, emotionally, and physically exploit the most vulnerable --people with a diagnosed brain disorder, often with co-occurring mental health conditions, typically with low self-esteem --many of whom have lost family support.  They have been assessed as needing residential services to retrain and heal their brain and link them back to a "normal" way of life.  This bill provides quality of care standards for any Recovery House that "hires staff" and "provides services".

Sadly, the Health and Government Operations Committee (HGO) will never get an opportunity to vote on this bill, because Chairman Hammen has chosen to hold it, rather than send it through the process of a subcommittee analysis and a Committee vote.

Not being a voting constituent of Del. Hammen's, nor a lobbyist, I am unable to speak to him about this bill directly.  When I asked Andrew, Chairman Hammen's top Legislative Aide, why some people should get the services they need and therefore live, while others are denied those services and allowed to die, Andrew replied that it was "God's will".

I cannot think of any other mental health disorder or physical disease where the protocol is to send the patient to live with others battling the disease and hope for the best.  We do not deny cancer patient's the treatment they need in order to fight their disease --and we would certainly never tell them that it is God's Will if they die because they were unable to access the services that they needed to recover.

Please call Chairman Hammen's office and tell him that you would like him to assign House Bill 1429 to Subcommittee.  Please call your HGO Committee representative for your county and request that they ask Chairman Hammen to move this bill forward for a vote --as it will save people's lives.  Links to contact information for each Delegate on the HGO Committee is provided below:

Peter A. HammenChair (410) 841-3772(301) 858-3772
Shane E. PendergrassVice-Chair (410) 841-3139(301) 858-3139
Lisa Lowe
Heroin Action Coalition

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